Odds are if you’re reading this you’re not Scotty Bowman. Coincidentally, you don’t have to be Scotty Bowman to figure out that for the Sens to have the best chance possible at winning this series shutting down Sidney Crosby is a must. He is simply the best player going right now and giving him breathing room is a recipe for disaster.
A few observers suggested that Crosby simply didn’t look like himself yesterday and he didn’t do enough to leave an imprint on the game. Things went fine for Pittsburgh regardless, but Crosby’s inability to get something going was not so much his ineffectiveness as it was the Sens ability to keep the puck away from him.
How did they do that? With big efforts from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Erik Condra and Colin Greening.
The Pageau-Condra-Greening line played the lion’s share of their minutes against Crosby and, if we focus in on the centre matchup specifically, the Sens got four matchups between Crosby and the Pageau from the faceoff with Pageau winning 75% of his draws. Being the road team the Sens didn’t have the luxury of last change meaning, more often than not, they were forced to change on the fly to get the Pageau line out against Pittsburgh’s top unit.
(In the interest of context it should also be noted that a fair number of these minutes were played with the Karlsson-Methot defensive tandem.)
The results are visible on the scoresheet. Crosby was held pointless in 17 minutes of play and was a minus player on the night as he was the opposing centreman when Greening scored his first period goal. Not only that, but of Crosby’s four shots on goal, none came while the Pageau line was on the ice. He had at least one shot on goal against each of the Sens other three lines in roughly four minutes away from the Pageau trio.
When the Sens play the Pageau-Condra-Greening line, they are putting forth a line that hogs the puck as well as any in the league with prime evidence being last night’s performance. They played keepaway against one of the top lines -- if not the top line -- in all of hockey, allowed just two total shots on goal all game (while denying Crosby a shot) and earned a goal for their efforts.
According to the scoring chance data compiled by The 6th Sens (which we passed along earlier today) the trio of Pageau, Condra and Greening were not on the ice for a single scoring chance against at even strength. Pageau was on the ice for six Ottawa scoring chances, Condra was on the ice for six and Greening was on the ice for five. A fair portion considering the same data credits the Sens with 13 even strength scoring chances to Pittsburgh’s nine.
Obviously the effectiveness of this line freed up Evgeni Malkin, which underscores the danger of Pittsburgh, but the Sens proved they can hang with Pittsburgh defensively by finding a way to stifle Pittsburgh’s prolific top line.
Going forward we’ll see if the Sens continue to turn to the Pageau line to play lockdown in Game 2, while keeping in mind that it should get a bit easier with the luxury of having the last change in Game 3 and Game 4 for matchup purposes.
As the old adage goes, however, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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