It’s amazing what a win can do for a team’s confidence.
Down 3-1 to the Boston Bruins heading into the third period of Game 2, things looked bleak for the Ottawa Senators, who were suddenly lacking in confidence. Staring an 0-2 series deficit in the face, Dion Phaneuf led a furious Sens comeback with a three-point effort to even up the best-of-seven and breathe some life back into the team as the series shifted to Boston.
But make no mistake, without Phaneuf’s heroics the Sens were 20 minutes away from realizing the same fate as they did in Game 1 – taking the loss as a result of a comedy of mental errors. “We realized that the first game we kind of gave away, and again we were about to give this one away as well,” Senators captain Erik Karlsson told the assembled media post-game.
The #Sens speak to media following today’s 4-3 OT win over the Boston Bruins. pic.twitter.com/WzFYpZFoE8
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 15, 2017
Jekyll and Hyde
The captain was absolutely right in his assessment of his team’s play through the first two games, as they played well enough to win both but nearly came away empty handed as many times. It was an ironic twist for the Sens, who have prided themselves on their defensive zone play throughout the regular season yet failed at the worst possible time by turnovers and sloppiness.
Through the opening two games of the series, the Senators have turned the puck over a whopping 36 times to just 17 for Boston, which played no small part in the Bruins’ Game 1 victory. Each of Boston’s two goals was the result of poor puck management by the Senators, who on both occasions tried and failed to clear the puck numerous times before Boston took advantage of some fatigued defenders.
A similar destiny almost felled the Senators in Game 2, with Craig Anderson’s gaffe zapping all the momentum gained from Clarke MacArthur’s momentous game-tying goal only 1:42 earlier. Fortunately, the Senators played relatively clean for the remainder of the game and were able to convert that into a three-goal comeback.
Craig Anderson did a whoopsie pic.twitter.com/G8NJUcnLzZ
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 15, 2017
That is perhaps the most frustrating takeaway from the first two games – that a few collective minutes of mindless play could be the difference between going to Boston tied 1-1 and being up 2-0. Through the first two games, the Sens have outshot the Bruins 56-54 (but trail 96-95 in 5-on-5 shot attempts), surrendered only one power play goal and hold an 86-80 edge in hits.
More importantly, they’ve held Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron to a combined two goals and five points (one of those goals coming on the power play). Given the success that line has enjoyed this season and the threat it poses, the Sens should be incredibly pleased they have thus far limited the damage.
Outside Looking In
For all the good the Sens have done – both perceived and actual – there’s also a lot of work that remains to be done. While they’ve outshot the Bruins, and are nearly equal in shot attempts, many of those shots have come outside the home plate area (widely considered to be the danger zone), which isn’t good enough when facing a goalie of Rask’s calibre.
In Game 2, Ottawa was fortunate enough to convert on two of their shots from outside the home plate area. Chris Wideman’s shot from the blue line didn’t look too menacing but benefited from a bottleneck in front of Rask, while Phaneuf’s game-winning one-timer from the point was well positioned and also the benefactor of a bit of a scramble in front of the net.
Overall, Rask has faced just nine shots from the high-danger area at even strength, stopping all of them, while allowing two goals on 10 shots from the medium-danger area. To Ottawa’s credit, Boston hasn’t fared much better, with only seven high-danger shots on Anderson, of which he has stopped six, and two goals on 13 shots from medium-danger range.
Neither team has appeared willing to give an inch in the offensive zone – and it’s not in the Senators’ DNA to start taking risks, most definitely not in the playoffs – but something’s gotta give. The Sens have done a great job containing Boston’s big threats for the most part, but that likely can’t continue to the same effect and they can’t rely on sneaky perimeter shots to be the difference in the series.
If they have any hope of pulling ahead for good, they’ll have to pick their spots and try to generate some action in the middle of the ice. Obviously, that’s every team’s objective and it’s easier said than done, but the Sens have weapons at their disposal they could use as decoys (a la Game 2) to free up some space for their teammates.
Karlsson is the best defenseman on the planet. pic.twitter.com/6jOvTxL7cs
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 15, 2017
The Injury Bug
On the injury front, both teams have faced some adversity but the Bruins’ situation has been worse. Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo have yet to play in the series, while Colin Miller left early in Game 1 after taking a hit from Mark Borowiecki and didn’t play in Game 2, during which Adam McQuaid also left early.
Borowiecki also couldn’t escape injury – some calling it karma – as he crashed hard into the boards in the second game of the series and needed help hobbling to the dressing room. Whether he plays in Game 3 is still up in the air, but the injury is still a blow to the Sens who at long last looked healthy on the blue line with Marc Methot finally returning from his gruesome injury.
Fortunately for the Sens, they have a number of players they can turn to (Fredrik Claesson, Ben Harpur and Jyrki Jokipakka) who have at least some experience playing with the team this year. Borowiecki’s contributions to the game are debatable, but one fact that is undeniable is the physical presence he brings to every game, which would be tough to replace.
Advanced stats courtesy of hockeystats.ca and corsica.hockey