For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Jim Corsi to break down the action from the Senators' perspective. Corsi will be checking in throughout the series.
Corsi, 62, is the former goaltending coach for the Buffalo Sabres (2001-14) and St. Louis Blues (2014-17). He also played 26 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1979-80 season.
PITTSBURGH -- The Ottawa Senators have to regain command of the neutral zone if they are going to regain control in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Senators, whose bread and butter is their ability to control that area by forcing turnovers or containing speed entries, couldn't contain the Pittsburgh Penguins in the middle of the ice in Game 2 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday.
The Penguins scored one goal, but forward Phil Kessel's sixth of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 6:55 remaining in the third period was enough for a 1-0 win to even the best-of-7 series at 1-1.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Kessel rips wrister past Anderson
Former NHL goaltending coach Jim Corsi said the Senators need to have a better plan to limit the Penguins' speed through the neutral zone and to establish possession for themselves in Game 3 at Ottawa on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Ottawa wants to create tension and uncertainty, but if you don't sustain any kind of pressure, that uncertainty isn't there and now you've got Ottawa pulling back and Pittsburgh coming at them," Corsi said. "It's about a mastery of the neutral zone, and I think that's where the adjustment will occur."
Corsi said the Senators seemed satisfied to chip the puck to the middle of the ice and sit back in Game 2.
"It's part of the [Muhammad] Ali- [Joe] Frazier rope-a-dope philosophy," Corsi said. "It almost seemed like they were content to rope-a-dope until the Penguins make a mistake."
The Penguins didn't make a mistake. Instead, they had their wingers regroup with the center and defensemen, allowing them to come up the ice as a unit of five.
Pushing forward with speed, the Penguins forced the Senators to back up, creating problems with Ottawa's gap defense in the neutral zone. It led to easy entries and sustained pressure.
"Look at the winning goal," Corsi said. "The Senators were in their usual position, but they were backing off. If [center Jean-Gabriel] Pageau had a better gap like a good defenseman would, he would end up denying the pass from [center Evgeni] Malkin to Kessel. Instead, the pass gets to Kessel, who makes a little juke-and-jive move."
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Boucher on shutout loss in Game 2
Pageau blocked Kessel's first shot, but the puck went right back to Kessel, who scored against Senators goaltender Craig Anderson on a low glove-side wrist shot from above the hash marks.
"It's a rush chance, but it wasn't like Ottawa got caught on the rush," Corsi said. "But they were backing up and the Penguins were coming at them. The Senators neutral-zone gap has to be better addressed."
One way to do it, Corsi said, is for Ottawa to have more of a chip-and-forecheck mentality. He said they were guilty in Game 2 of giving the Penguins the puck back without much pressure against them.
That was different in Game 1, when the Senators outshot the Penguins 32-17 at even strength and had a 49-34 edge in 5-on-5 shot attempts. In Game 2, the Penguins outshot the Senators 27-22 at even strength and had a 47-29 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts.
"In Game 1, when they got those shots, it was off of a wide entry as opposed to a chip in the middle," Corsi said. "What Ottawa does quite well is they have curled entries. So they'll go wide, curl up and look for somebody inside or put it behind the net. They get the puck, everybody is looking inside, and Ottawa can go board pass to the point man, point man 'D' to 'D' and they'll bring a high forward into the top of the circle. But that was happening less and less and less in Game 2. Part of it was that it was a chip and chase entry as opposed to a chip and forecheck entry or a wide entry.
"Ottawa, to get out of it, more so than ever, has to command more of the neutral zone."