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Senators still looking for answers

by Karl Samuelson

Despite losing to Pittsburgh 5-3 in Game 2, Ottawas' Martin Gerber made a franchise record 49 saves. Martin Gerber highlights
The Ottawa Senators are down, but they're not out.

After an embarrassing 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1, the Senators rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie Game 2 before Ryan Malone's power-play goal with 62 seconds to play led Pittsburgh to another victory. In Game 3, the Senators grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second period, but the Penguins stormed back for a 4-1 victory. In spite of the obvious deficit and injuries to several key players, the Senators are determined to make it a competitive series against their heavily favored opponent.

"It doesn't matter who is out (with injuries), you should be able to play at the top level," said Ottawa coach and General Manager Bryan Murray. "So we will just try to play at the top level. Uniforms matter. Players don't."

The formula for success is not complicated for the Senators. Ottawa has to focus on the fundamentals, continue to get solid goaltending from Martin Gerber, and put more pressure on the Penguins' defense.

"That's what we're trying to do," Murray said. "Pittsburgh's strength is quite obviously down the middle. They've got a couple of real fine shooters on the outside. We have to try to get some turnovers to give us a chance to attack their goaltender more often and that is what we are attempting to do. It's important to get good dumps and make sure that we have a chance to recover the puck."

Each playoff season signals the emergence of third- and fourth-line players as legitimate scoring threats. What is about the postseason that enable secondary scorers to emerge as heroes?

"I think what happens is coaches pay so much (defensive) attention to the stars that the third- and fourth-line guys have to step up," Murray said. "It's all about traffic now and those guys go to the net. You get rebounds. You get deflections. Every team plays pretty much the same right now. They drive the net and somebody hits the corner and the goaltender can't see the puck. In Detroit, they have Tomas Holmstrom in front of the net and the Red Wings score from the point. Mike Modano scores for Dallas on a point shot with two guys at the net. That's why third- and fourth-line players get some points in the playoffs. The puck touches them and it goes into the net and they have success."

Pittsburgh is getting outstanding contributions from their good players, especially Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It's no secret that Ottawa has to find a way to neutralize the Penguins' dynamic duo at critical times of the game.

"We've got to do a better job of realizing when they are on the ice," Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips said. "I think it starts up ice by not allowing their teammates to get them the puck because they do have a lot of skill and they make things happen when they have it. When they enter the zone, we've got to be right on them and not only that, but you also need good close support to be there in case something happens. They are both very skilled guys and it takes everyone on the ice lending a hand in shutting them down."

"We've given them too many chances, and part of that is having too many penalties called against us," Ottawa center Antoine Vermette said. "And the other part of the equation is to try and minimize their time and space in the neutral zone."

The players know that they have to continue to notch up the intensity in getting two guys in deep on the Penguins defense, being physical and creating turnovers.

"We know their strength and we know where they're more vulnerable," Vermette said. "One part of our game that we're trying to play effectively is putting the puck more in their end. Last year we had success when we applied constant pressure on them and at the same time we played better in the neutral zone and took their speed away in the middle. We definitely have to try to make them play in their end a little more."

One might wonder if the Senators have to settle down their play or ratchet up their intensity, but the answer is somewhere in between as they strive to get in the "zone."

"You can always bring more intensity," Vermette said. "You can't have too much intensity in the playoffs but at the same time it can be a delicate balance in professional sport. You want to be in the zone where you can be relaxed but at the same time be focused and play well. As a player you are always trying to find that zone where you are comfortable in your performance and that means bringing the intensity and the work ethic, but at the same time you've got to be composed and in control. It's a balance."

But all will be lost if the Senators don't put increased pressure on the Pittsburgh blue-line corps.

"That's the key," Redden said. "If we can get the pucks out of their forwards hands and get them to go back into their zone every time and get on them quickly it will result in turnovers, put a strain on their defense, and make them play in their end. Then things will start to develop off of that. But it starts in our end. It's a three zone game but when we're playing well in our end it seems that everything else flows from it, so we've got to focus more on doing the job in our end, get the puck moving, and then we get pressure in their end because we've got speed coming up the ice."

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