Game Day: Senators @ Penguins - throw the numbers out the window
May 21, 2017, 7:14 AM ET [63 Comments]
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You can forget the fact that the Penguins are 5-1 after a loss in these playoffs and they haven't won 2 straight games since game 1 and 2 of the Washington series.
Forget the fact that the Senator are 4-0 in afternoon games this playoffs, while the Penguins have yet to play a game that started earlier than 6:00 PM. Forget the fact that Ottawa has also bounced back well after a loss and are 4-1 in such situations this season.
None of that matters. What does matter is that when the dust settles on the game this afternoon, one team will be within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals and one team will be facing elimination come Tuesday night.
All that matters is the next 60 minutes. The previous 4 games mean nothing. Each team is 1-1 at home, and 1-1 in their opponents barn.
The Senators will need to win one more in Pittsburgh, and there is no time like the present. While not an easy task, there are a number of keys and areas of improvement that if they can fix it will go a long way to meeting their own goals and becoming giant slayers.
They will have to solve Matt Murray, who has taken over the net from Marc-Andre Fleury and did a nice job in weathering the storm the Senators put on the Penguins early on on Friday, giving his team a solid outing before bending but not breaking in the final minutes when Ottawa was pressing for the equalizer.
The Senators will have to get back to the defensive form that frustrated Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, both in terms of defensive structure and top-notch goaltending, both of which took a minor step back in game four than the previous three games.
Ottawa will have to be aggressive on the forecheck, with a bruised and battered Penguins blue line that could feature 6 left-handed shots with half of them playing on their off-side. Create turnovers which mean in more offensive zone time and by virtue of that, the result being more scoring chances and making the Penguins top forwards expend their energy defending. All while still playing a responsible defensive game and limiting odd-man rushes.
And finally, finding a way to make the Penguins pay for taking penalties might be the biggest key for the Senators to come home with the series lead. They haven't scored with the man advantage in 9 games, or 23 power plays, or 43:09 of actual power play time. You could take the line of thinking that they are quite simply due. Ottawa's power play has been streaky all year, and now would be the time to go on a hot streak. They have come close, including a Kyle Turris shot off the post in the dying seconds with the goalie pulled and a 6-on-4 advantage, but for the most part they have had trouble gaining the Penguins zone with possession and spend more time setting up the entry than they do setting up plays for scoring chances.
It is almost unfair, but a lot of the pressure rests on the shoulders of Erik Karlsson to show them the way. He needs to make himself a threat to carry the puck, something that he hasn't done with enough regularity (whether by design or by injury) to make the Pens focus on that part of his game. He has been great defensively and more than solid once the team gets the offensive zone, but the most dynamic part of his game hasn't been as present as it needs to be. Everyone can be better, but it starts with Karlsson and Craig Anderson.