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Five reasons Senators were eliminated from playoffs

by Arpon Basu

The Ottawa Senators' unlikely 2012-13 season came to an end Friday when they lost, 6-2, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But just being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, let alone in the second round, was a minor miracle for a team that had to overcome crippling injuries to star players all season.

While it would be easy to say the Senators lost simply because they are not the Penguins, small improvements in certain areas of Ottawa's game could have extended the series.

Here are five of them:

1. Craig Anderson wasn't superhuman

The Senators were able to knock off the Montreal Canadiens in round one due in large part to the play of Anderson in goal. He stopped 171 of 180 shots against Montreal but was merely human against a much more dangerous Pittsburgh team. Anderson allowed 20 goals on 172 shots in five games, getting pulled in two of them, for a save percentage of .884.

The quality of the shots he was facing was far different, but the wide disparity between Anderson's success in rounds one and two is a big reason the Senators are done playing.

2. Starts and finishes

A strength of the Senators in the first round was that they didn't allow goals early or late in games. Against Montreal, Ottawa allowed one goal in the first period and none in the third period in five games, ensuring they often played with a lead and, if they managed to maintain it to the third period, they held it.

The Penguins quickly broke that pattern of behavior.

Pittsburgh scored the first goal in four of the five games of this series, and had seven in five first periods. They matched that goal total in five third periods largely on the back of a four-goal third in Game 4 that turned a 3-2 game into a laugher.

3. Penalty killing

Had Ottawa played Pittsburgh 48 times over the course of the regular season, the Senators would not have led the NHL in penalty killing with an 88-percent success rate.

However, if the Senators were to have any hope of beating the powerhouse Penguins, this was an area where they needed to excel.

The Senators did have a two-game stretch when they limited the Penguins to one goal on 12 power-play attempts, but in the other three games Pittsburgh went 5-for-13 with the man-advantage.

One of the major issues for Ottawa's penalty killing unit was how often it was on the ice. Giving the Pittsburgh power play an average of five opportunities a game was not a recipe for success.

4. Injuries

Yes, the Senators became a complete team for the first time since January when center Jason Spezza suited up for Game 3, but just because players were in uniform doesn't mean they were injury-free.

Spezza's play was inspiring, but he was clearly struggling to get up to speed with the pace and intensity of the playoffs after missing three-and-a-half months recovering from back surgery. He had one assist in Game 5, his first point in three games.

Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 8
SOG: 28 | +/-: 0
Defenseman Erik Karlsson returned earlier than expected from a lacerated Achilles tendon, but he was not the same player he was prior to the injury and at times hurt his team with his inability to recover when some of the risky plays that make him so great went awry. Karlsson had two assists in Game 4, the only game he registered any points.

Then there was wing Milan Michalek, who hardly practiced throughout the playoffs due to what was believed to be the lingering effects of a knee injury that cost him significant time during the regular season. He didn't miss a game and displayed tremendous skating ability in scoring one of the nicest goals of the series in Game 4 on a shorthanded breakaway, but by and large he was not a dangerous player until it was too late. Michalek had two goals and an assist over Games 3, 4 and 5.

5. The rookies couldn't come through

No team wants to rest its postseason hopes on rookies, but the fact is the Senators had four rookie forwards who played key roles eliminating the Canadiens. Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Cory Conacher took turns making a significant contribution to each of the Senators' four first-round wins. They combined for nine goals and six assists in five games against Montreal.

The production was not nearly the same against Pittsburgh. Those four players combined for one goal (Pageau) and one assist (Silfverberg) in five games.

You can't blame rookies for inconsistency in the playoffs, but when a team relies so heavily on them, that inconsistency can be your undoing.

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