Despite being down in the series 2-0, the Ottawa Senators are far from out of it. Returning home, where they have played well all season, and having Jason Spezza return to the lineup help tip the scales in favor for the Senators chances of getting back in this series. Game one was a lopsided contest where the Penguins were in complete control the entire game. For game two, the Senators hung around like the pesky team they define themselves as, and came much closer to solving the Penguins for the first time this season. The Senators were able to crack the wall known as Thomas Vokoun, and managed to keep the game close right to the end. However, the Senators have yet been able to contain the Penguins offense or special teams. Furthermore, the Senators still have not picked up their physical game to the level that they showed in their series against the Montreal Canadiens; a part of their game that was key in their victory. Although the odds are stacked against the Senators at this point, they still have a shot at the series – and here is what they must do to get back in it.
First – The Senators will need to get physical and stay physical. They have shown spurts of physicality for a few minutes at a time, but they need to keep a high level of physical aggression for the entire game. This is easier said than done, but it is something that must be done if the Senators hope to slay their playoff nemesis. Admittedly, the Penguins are not the same “smallish” size team that the Montreal Canadiens are, and thus the task of physically dominating them is much more difficult. However, the strategy of punishing the Penguins as the Senators did against the Canadiens is perhaps the most sound strategy in beating them. The Penguins may be bigger than the Canadiens, but they are nearly as soft. They are not known for their physical intimidation, and considering the fragileness of players like Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, along with the age of players like Jerome Inginla and Brendan Morrow, the Senators could make physical domination of the Penguins a major asset for them in this series. Game three in Ottawa against the Canadiens was the turning point in the series for the Senators in round one. If they can find the same kind of ferocity in game three in this series, it may also become the turning point in this series.
Two – The Senators have proved to themselves they can overcome Thomas Vokoun, so now their focus must turn away from pushing their offensive game, to resolving their defensive game. The first two games of this series, the Senators defense has had far too many collapses to win a playoff game. The Penguins are perhaps one of the most skilled team in the league, but the Senators need to tighten up their defense and give the Pens offense far more trouble than they have been giving them thus far. The quickest and most effective way to do this is to clog up the neutral zone and make this series a sloppy and slow affair. This will also help the Senators keep up the physical punishment by making the Pens forwards dump in the puck and have to retrieve it along the boards. By ratcheting up the pressure on the Pens offense, the Senators have a chance at controlling the tempo of the game, and not be forced to score 4+ goals a game to beat Pittsburgh – something they simply do not have the firepower to do.
Three – Finally, the Senators need some help from their coaching staff. Although they did not have the luxury of final change while on the road, the matchups they put out there could have been better considering the performances on both ends of the ice. There is no reason to allow Crosby to score a hat trick. Countless footage and real game examples can be found for effective ways of neutralizing Crosby. The most effective way is to stick your best defensive centerman on him every time he is out on the ice. For the Senators, this would be Zach Smith. Throwing Smith out there to contain Crosby and punish him along the boards is going to be crucial in slowing down the NHL superstar and Penguins offense in general. If the Senators coaching staff cannot make adequate adjustments and find the right personnel combos to get out on the ice, the Senators are in for quick series.
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