Saturday, April 12, 2008

Disheartening, but promising: Pens 5 Sens 3

Wow, Martin Gerber. Wow.

Despite allowing four goals in a 5-3 loss, Gerber was by far the best player on the ice for either team as he stopped 49 of 53 shots that he faced. Many of the shots were of the difficult variety, to boot. Most impressive was that Gerber's reaction play has improved; whereas in previous solid efforts Gerber's saves were because of solid positioning and knowledge of angles, Darth Gerber really had his act together on making second and third shots when his defence wasn't helping him out.

After the play of Gerber, the best thing about the game was the grit and tenacity the second-, third-, and fourth-lines played. Although the top two lines are still being outplayed by the Penguins top two, the third and fourth each scored an even-strength goal tonight and outplayed their opponents. And finally, thank God, the powerplay did something. And they did it by driving to the net and making Marc-Andre Fleury battle through bodies.

After going down 3-0 mid-way through the second, the Sens' second line of Shean Donovan, Chris Neil, and Dean McAmmond made some magic: they scored. I'm amazed at how exciting a single goal is to the highest-scoring team in the NHL's regular season, but there it is. On the play, Neil did the simple play--threw the puck on net--and Donovan did another simple play--drive to the net with your stick on the ice. And it worked. This whole line was powerful all game, and I've got to give credit to Neiler for playing a good game. It was his best effort in a little while, despite the fact that he took an unnecessary slashing penalty that led to a 5-on-3 that led to the first goal of the game.

Scoring in bunches

Going into the game, I had a feeling that once this team scored one they'd score a few, and that's just what happened. Less than five minutes after Donovan's goal, with the Sens on the powerplay, Cory Stillman did just what Donovan did for his goal and drove to the net, picking up a rebound and directing it into the net. It was a respectable 3-2 going into the third, and the Sens had all the momentum.

If you hadn't seen the third Sens goal, you can probably guess how Cody Bass put it in. That's right, by driving to the net. The common denominator here is that when the Sens drive to the net, Fleury can't concentrate and goals go in. End of story. So perhaps if Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza start driving that net, they'll start racking up the points and this series will take off.

On Bass' goal, Randy Robitaille made me eat my words by cutting into the slot and firing a pass to the BassMaster, who reeled it in and tucked it under Fleury. To clarify, my qualms with Robitaille are not that he's lacking in skill, because when he's got time he can showcase some offensive creativity. He seems unwilling or unable to use his body to protect the puck, however, and has a hard time finding the time and space necessary. When he cut in on Hal Gill and exposed Gill's slowness, he made some space for himself, and used it to get Bass the puck in front of the net.


Off the score sheet, leading the way in hits for the Senators were Christoph Schubert and Mike Commodore, both of whom had seven on the night. No Penguins player matched that game-high number. Commodore, who played over 22 minutes on the night, finished a remarkable +2 and had one of his best games to date (Although he was on for the Pens' two powerplay goals, which don't count against +/-). Maybe he really is a playoff warrior.

Speaking of warriors, Anton Volchenkov didn't change his play one bit. This guy is absolutely amazing. He played over 21 minutes and had 4 hits and 4 blocked shots.

Referees always suck for both sides

On factor that fans always complain about is refereeing, but I'll try and make my case for two of the Penguins' goals. First off was the goal by Sergei Gonchar; Neil took a chincy slashing call when he gave Georges Laraque a tap on the shinpads, and--although it could easily have been overlooked--it was illegal, so I'll leave that there. The call on Chris Phillips to put the Sens down two men, though, was ridiculous. Phillips lost his stick so he pushed Sidney "the league's favourite person ever" Crosby down, a perfectly legit defensive play, and got called. Murphy's Law prevailed, and Gonchar scored about 16 minutes in.

Then, with just over a minute left in the third period, Martin Lapointe got his stick up on Jarkko Ruutu. Somehow, this mild contact--which I'll admit was a penalty--sent the stick flying out of Ruutu's hands, and he went soaring through the neutral zone as if thrown from a trampoline. It was the definition of a dive. In a game as close as this is, there should have been a call on both players. It's not as if Ruutu isn't a known diver; that's his game, and don't tell me the referees aren't familiar with his antics. Although I'm absolutely sure this is simply a conspiracy theory, on thing is certain: the league wants Pittsburgh to move on. Whether or not that's affecting the way the referees see the game--consciously or subconsciously--is another story, but there's no hiding the fact that the league would benefit more from the Penguins in round two than the Senators.


Looking at the Sens' four most impressive players, a lot of heat that has been put on Bryan Murray may have been lifted. He was leaned on by many to play Ray Emery instead of Gerber, but the way Gerber has been playing has been outstanding. I think we all realize that Peter Schaefer could never have scored the goal that Donovan scored, and that's why Murray traded Schaefer to Boston for Donovan. Cory Stillman made that second goal happen, with a great pass to Heatley and a solid drive to the net. Finally, although the Robitaille experiment has been a failure so far, it all comes out in the wash and if Ropes finds a way to make the fourth line an offensive threat than we're back in business. Now all Murray has to prove is that he can out-coach a hack like Michel Therrien and everyone will love him again.

The Sens made some good strides in this game, and they showed that there's some emotion and some pride in making this series respectable. While they are in a huge hole, I'm not sure I'd go so far as to agree with Milks from Black Aces and suggest that "their chances of coming back in this series are slim at best." The Sens lost two in Pittsburgh, now they just have to win two in Ottawa. If that was the best effort the Penguins can put forward than the Sens are in good shape going into game three; I only hope that Sens fans come out in droves to cheer on our team, because community support has a funny way of getting players on top of their game. Just look at game three of the Stanley Cup Finals last season, when the team played out of this world.
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