Structure out-executes High-End Talent in Game 1
The Ottawa Senators took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on a Bobby Ryan overtime goal to secure a 2-1 OT win at the PPG Paints Arena. The Senators with the Game 1 win, improved to 6-1 in overtime during the 2017 playoffs.
“Our players are really good at not fearing the outcome, and we play the way we play,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said after the win as the Senators slowed down the Penguins offensive attack.
The Senators are playing with house money in reaching the Conference Final and are now three wins away from an improbable trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Stunning loss for the heavily favored Penguins to drop Game 1?
Coming off an emotional seven game series against the Capitals, if there was going to be a let down game for the Penguins it was going to be tonight.
“We didn’t execute in the first period,” Mike Sullivan of the Penguins.
The Penguins flat out didn’t execute and that’s what their Game 1 loss came down to.
What Game 2 will tell the story of is whether the Senators structured play in all three zones was the biggest hand in the Penguins lack of execution or this was a case of just a one game thing.
Ottawa played with fire in the first period in taking four penalties including a 5-on-3 situation for 45 seconds the Penguins didn’t convert.
Outside of that, the blue print was there for Ottawa in how to be competitive and possibly steal the series.
Keys to Senators Taking Game 1
1. The 1-3-1 didn’t cause the Penguins fits in the neutral zone. What caused the Penguins issues was how sound positionally the Senators were in rotating to the puck carrier in the defensive zone.
“I thought we got through the neutral zone the way we wanted to,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “I don’t think we got enough pucks to the net. We were looking for that next play instead of putting pucks at the net.”
Another factor for the Penguins that could just be a one game thing or a problem the rest of the way was fatigue. The Penguins just didn’t have their legs to create enough time and space that hindered their execution in certain stretches of the game. Let’s not forget, this club has played a ton of hockey over the last year and a half.
Mike Sullivan’s club was limited to 14 shots in over 52 minutes of 5 vs 5 time. Pittsburgh was also out-attempted 49-34 at 5 vs 5 and we’re limited to 3 high danger chances.
From the 11:28 mark of the second period through the 4:59 played in overtime, Ottawa outshot Pittsburgh 22-9 over the final 33 minutes play.
2. Opportunistic Senators: Both Senator goals came on them burying grade-A scoring chances and off of Penguin miscues.
On Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s first period goal, Ron Hainsey was late in providing short support to Brian Dumoulin and a costly Penguin turnover behind the net saw Bobby Ryan find Jean-Gabriel Pageau all alone in front for an Ottawa 1-0 lead.
Marc Andre Fleury stopped 33 of 35 shots. He was strong again in goal. Fleury and the Penguins defenders continue to excel since Round 1 in limiting those juicy rebounds/second chance opportunities. The Penguins were good defensively again in boxing out in front and there weren’t a lot of second chance opportunities for the Senators.
Where Fleury’s biggest vulnerability in the postseason (and in the regular season) has been is high danger chances. As great as Fleury was in the Penguins four wins last series, he had a 75.0 HDSV% in Round 2.
Ottawa buried 2 of their 9 high danger attempts at even strength on the Pageau and Ryan goals and a few that didn’t go in, Fleury was vulnerable in tracking the puck where it almost caught him a couple times.
In the second period, Bobby Ryan had him beat on long shot from the right circle that clanked the post and early in the third, Derrick Brassard hit a post on a great chance coming down the left wing. These weren’t Phil Kessel booming type shots like the one Kessel had that caught a post in the third on Craig Anderson.
The Senators only got two past Fleury but Ottawa’s top players were opportunistic and they came awfully close to putting three or four on the Penguins.
3. Senators goaltender Craig Anderson is often hit or miss but the guy has a career .929 playoff save percentage and when he’s on, he can be really tough to beat.
There will surely be doubts that Anderson can play like this in Game 2.
In Game 1 he was on from the start. Anderson was seeing the puck extremely well and anticipating the play where the Penguins were only going to beat him with a deflection type goal like the Malkin one in the third period.
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