After a tough game two wherein the Sens arguably played a more complete game than the first and lost, the key to turning the tide back in the Ottawa’s favour was almost unanimously agreed upon amongst players and coaches: bodies to the net.
Following Saturday’s skate, Coach MacLean summed up Montreal’s successes as being “harder at both nets” and “harder on the puck” than the Sens were. Ottawa did have success gaining Montreal’s zone and creating chances, but those successes came by way of the transition game, generating offence on rushes rather than playing with the puck.
While game one was similar in many ways, Ottawa dictated the pace of their big third period by holding the puck for long stretches and creating multiple opportunities per shift. Aside from Montreal playing desperation hockey late in the game down a pair, the Sens were in the proverbial driver’s seat all period long.
In game two the Sens had difficulty maintaining possession for long stretches of time consistently. Good outlet passes and smart plays carrying the puck would get them chances on goal, but they would be forced to turn back and play D shortly thereafter. They simply couldn’t get enough done to break down Montreal’s defensive system.
Take a look at this shot on goal from Milan Michalek for example.
Michalek gets a shot off in tight against Carey Price who is playing deep in his crease and partially screened by David Desharnais trying to block the effort. But, because the other two Sens forwards are below the red line and erased from the play, there is no second opportunity despite the rebound bouncing out with a lot of net to shoot at.
With the Habs in good positions to clear their zone, they can get the puck up ice without any problems. The question is, how do you break down their back end to maintain possession for longer stretches and convert goals?
The key to doing that, as many players have vouched for, is creating problems for the Habs by occupying space around their net. The Sens were very effective around Price’s crease in game one but strayed marginally from that in game two, as seen above. If they are to pick up another win in game three, they’ll need to get back to setting up shop low.
Looking back on game one we can see that aside from Erik Karlsson’s goal, which was simply a skillful redirect from the slot, the Sens generated their offence by making Price uncomfortable in goal.
On Jakob Silfverberg’s goal in game one, many said that Price would “want it back.” We can see, however, that the Sens gave him a lot to think about leading up to the goal. Not only did they gain the zone with speed, Guillaume Latendresse’s route to the front of the net forces Price to worry about the chance of a pass across or a bad rebound. He simply can’t be as aggressive on the puck, as we see below.
While the puck is in the net at this point, we can see that Silfverberg had the benefit of Josh Gorges hiding the shot release, Latendresse with an empty net in the low slot and Mika Zibanejad in the high slot in the event of a big rebound. Price’s only recourse is to try and absorb the puck. He misses. Anything else and the Sens have two opportunities to tie the game.
Latendresse taking this route to the net pays off later in the period where the Sens enter the zone incident-free once again and we find the same players are in the same places. The only difference is this time a lower shot from Silfverberg forces the rebound Price couldn’t risk giving up above. Latendresse, crashing the net, has it take a bounce off of him during a fight for position with P.K. Subban and it goes in the net. Mika Zibanejad, acting as trailer once again, has an empty side to shoot at if it happens to roll in his direction.
Clearly the Sens can have success breaking down the Habs defensively, it’s a matter of fighting your way to the front of the net and creating “havoc and chaos” according to Kyle Turris. Those drives to the net create a lot for a goalie to think about and cause defenders in system to react and lose their shape.
We see similar effects on Marc Methot’s game one winner and Michalek’s goal from game two.
On both goals the Sens are the beneficiaries of Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Michalek settling in to screens in the low slot. With them we see defenders shadowing and inadvertently vacating shooting lanes, while minimizing the amount of time Price can have his eyes on the puck.
Methot’s game winner is a prime example of that as we can see below.
The Sens push and pull the Habs defenders around their own zone after winning the faceoff. While a couple of Canadiens chase Daniel Alfredsson who is looking for a man with a shot, Methot, Michalek and Pageau can dig in down low and offer support away from the play. As this plays out we can see that the Habs have formed line of defenders, all of which block Price’s view of the developing play and eventual shot.
When it does reach his crease he has a fraction of a second to wave his trapper at it, but it’s too late.
With Michalek’s game two goal, the Sens have an extra man on the ice and additional leeway as a delayed penalty call is on its way. Pageau and Michalek have once again set themselves up at opposing top corners of Price’s crease and, as a result, have made it difficult for him to track the play and drawn in other defenders to help offer inadvertent screens as well.
Price is forced to play catch up in goal, losing sight of Andre Benoit on the point who sends it to Chris Phillips. By the time Price reads the pass and shot he has overplayed the angle and left a lot of open net to his right. Michalek has a clear tip in to score and, in the event Price did get a pad on it, there’s plenty of clear space for Pageau to shoot at.
When you hear about a team trying to “simplify their game” this is what they’re talking about. Pucks on net and scrappy goals can do a lot for a team looking to build momentum. Momentum is a huge factor during the emotional fever pitch that is playoff hockey.
During the regular season the Sens had an even split between goals-for at home and on the road. In 24 games at home, they scored 56 goals. In 24 games on the road, they scored 56 goals.
Consequently, the disparity in the home/away records is defensive -- Ottawa’s home goal differential is plus-13 and minus-1 on the road. Having played fairly well defensively against Montreal thus far minus a handful of turnovers, it follows that the Sens will continue to hold up at home like they have all season, it’s simply a matter of generating chances. Coincidentally they return home after a two game road trip with a minus-1 goal differential.
The team hasn’t had any trouble getting pucks on net at any point this season, leading the league in shots per game. While Montreal has dictated a lot more of the play than Ottawa has been used to this season, the Sens have still managed to get a quality number of shots on goal at 61 in two games. From here onward it will be a matter of getting bodies to the low slot with them.
They’ve proven that if they can do that, they can win.
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