Senators Edge Maple Leafs 4-3 in the Battle of Ontario

Ottawa (4) Toronto (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday marked Toronto’s final game before heading into a well-deserved bye week. The Maple Leafs have had their last three games go to overtime, coming out on top twice and on the losing end most recently in Monday’s 3-2 decision to Columbus. A two-goal collapse in the final five minutes of regulation time preceded Artemi Panarin ending it in OT.

Roman Polak somehow found himself back in the lineup for Wednesday night’s contest versus Ottawa, despite having averaged nearly a penalty per game over the last fourteen. The gritty Czech defenceman has accumulated 24 minutes of penalties in just 14 contests since December 10th. They’re not productive ones, either.

The pace of play is clearly too fast for Polak as far as the eye test goes — and a 38.8 CF% drastically underlines that statistically.

At some point, Mike Babcock needs to hold his veterans accountable. Especially when it’s at the expense of developing young talent such as Travis Dermott or Andreas Borgman — even Connor Carrick.

Dermott was tonight’s healthy scratch in favour of Carrick’s return to the lineup, playing alongside Jake Gardiner. Dermott’s play thus far should’ve been enough to earn himself another opportunity, not just soaking up sorts of NHL “experience” from the press box.

Plus, what better chance is there to shine than against a struggling basement dweller? An anticipated rivalry game at that.

Failing to reward good performance sends the wrong message to your young players and veterans alike, although it’s entirely possible Leafs management is simply trying to avoid burning a year off of Dermott’s entry-level contract.

However, according to Babcock’s logic, he believes the 34th overall draft pick in 2015 could’ve been a full-time NHLer already, "In an ideal world he would have been a right-hand shot and been on the team all year.”

Okay. Now that that’s out, rant over.

Toronto welcomed the Ottawa Senators into town for what has been a rejuvenated Battle of Ontario rivalry as of late. It truly doesn’t matter where these teams are in the standings — it’s always an intriguing matchup.

The Sens were blown out 8-2 by the Blackhawks just one night prior, only to be pitted against the league’s sixth-highest scoring team, Toronto, in the second leg of a back-to-back situation.

It didn’t help that Ottawa was without Bobby Ryan, who suffered yet another hand injury in last night’s loss to Chicago. The recurring trend marked his eighth hand injury over the span of several years, since 2014.

From one goal away from the Stanley Cups Finals one season ago to sitting in 29th place overall so far this season. Even a roster shakeup that saw Ottawa depart from pending UFA Kyle Turris in order to land Matt Duchene via a three-team trade hasn’t worked out.

Duchene has recorded a mere 6 goals and 4 helpers in 27 games since joining the Senators. He’s been poised to break out for quite some time. Meanwhile, Turris has posted respectable numbers with 5 goals and 14 assists in 27 games in a secondary centre role for Nashville.

As action got underway in the opening frame, it would be the Senators drawing first blood despite being projected to come out on the losing end in this one.

After a Maple Leafs scoring chance at one end, Thomas Chabot went on to record his 3rd goal of the season just moments later down at the other. The momentum swinger came thanks in part to none other than Roman Polak scoring in his own net… Seriously, it somehow got worse for the 31-year-old coach’s pet — a nightmare scenario for Leafs Nation.

Chabot simply released the puck towards the net, which instead found Polak’s skate before fooling Frederik Andersen.

Ottawa went on to double their advantage with a quick strike to begin the second period — this time courtesy of Mike Hoffman’s 11th tally of the season.

Matt Duchene handled an aerial pass from Mike Hoffman, who followed up his own pass into the offensive zone before receiving a return feed in the slot from Duchene. The pass came in as a one-timer, to which Hoffman made no mistake in beating Andersen.

It appeared as though the Senators may escape unscathed after forty minutes, however, Andreas Borgman was able to solve Craig Anderson and in turn trim the deficit two minutes before the buzzer.

Tyler Bozak cycled the puck up to the point for Borgman, who leaned into a blistering slap-shot past Anderson to get the Leafs on the board. A plethora of bodies immediately cleared a path for the bomb-of-a-shot upon its release, before marking his 3rd goal of the season.

The fireworks continued as the third period started off with a bang from James van Riemsdyk, who potted a beautiful goal with a between-the-legs finish to even it at 2-apiece. Toronto’s equalizer came 0:54 seconds into the frame and effectively reignited the home crowd’s optimism.

Momentum doesn’t always last, though, especially when giving up a goal against two minutes later. Ottawa quickly regained their lead with Gabriel Dumont’s opportunistic 1st goal of the year at the 2:15 mark.

Toronto was down, but not out with plenty of time remaining.

Morgan Rielly went on to record his 5th goal of the season en route to a 3-3 tie game. The recent All-Star snub came up clutch and netted a long-range wrist shot from the blue line for his 31st point — now on pace for over 56 points.

It heated up with some rough stuff as Leo Komarov took out Jean-Gabriel Pageau with a questionable hit from behind and ignited a scrum, which seemed to inspire Ottawa in the form of a goal soon after.

A game of cat and mouse continued, and Tom Pyatt stole the cheese with a go-ahead tally to seal an eventual 4-3 victory. Ottawa would go on to improve to 2-0-0 in the Battle of Ontario this season.

A failed pinch in the offensive zone left Rielly stranded and Ron Hainsey left to defend a three-on-one triangle, which evidently ended poorly for the Leafs. Zack Smith handed the puck off to Matt Duchene, before hooking up with the eventual goal-scorer in Pyatt streaking towards Andersen.

Valuable points lost on a whim once again.

Either team will have some time off with a mandated bye week, with Toronto getting back into action next Tuesday at home versus St. Louis. The high-flying Blues should prove to be a challenging test after nearly a full week off the ice — but not one they shouldn’t be able to handle.

Until next time, please consider scratching Roman Polak. Cheers!

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs