Monday, April 14, 2008

Game 3: A hell of a hole

After a 4-1 loss on Monday night, the Sens have a hell of a hole to dig their way out of if there's any hope for us in Sens Army to make this ride last significantly longer. With the series now 3-0 in favour of the Penguins, the Sens would have to make history and become only the third team to recover from three games down to win a series. The key is to take the series one game at a time, however; it's a lot easier to win one game than it is to win four, so start with that.

This game was not nearly as one-sided as the scoresheet would indicate. The teams were neck-and-neck through the first two periods, with Ottawa outshooting Pittsburgh 14-12 in the first and the Pens responding by outshooting the Sens 13-12 in the second. In the third, though, the Pens scored twice in the first 90 seconds, and Garry Galley described it the best in saying it appeared the Sens just weren't ready to start when the puck dropped.

Despite the loss, a lot of Senators had very good games. For the first 30 minutes of the night, Nick Foligno looked absolutely amazing, and he was rewarded when he scored a really nice goal to kick off the scoring. Strange as it is to think, that might have been the turning point. The Sens looked to really step back a bit after the goal, culminating with the game-tying goal by Maxim Talbot just a few minutes after Foligno's marker. The Sens never seemed to get back the tempo they had in the first period after that.

Although his goals-against average remains 4.00, Martin Gerber had a decent game. He wasn't the same as he was on Friday, but he made some clutch saves while the Senators were struggling with defensive coverage early in the game. He stopped 34 of 38 shots, and it would be hard to blame him for any of the goals, although perhaps the first one was stoppable.

On the whole, Mike Commodore had a really solid game. He was really hard on players, doing all the behind-the-scenes physical play that you can get away with in the playoffs, and he was even making smart passes and appropriate pinches. Wade Redden had a pretty good game, too, probably his best effort so far (better late than never, I guess). It goes without saying that Anton Volchenkov played exactly as advertised, and he is just the kind of warrior every player wishes they could be.

In the forward ranks, not a lot of players looked amazing. Positively, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza appeared to have more jazz to their game, but they still have to outscore the top players on the Penguins for the Sens to win any games. Role players like Shean Donovan and Dean McAmmond also played the kind of games they had to, and did some great work while killing penalties.

The best player for the Senators tonight was Daniel Alfredsson. He had more impact than any other Senators' player in the game, led the team in shots on net with four, and played over 17 minutes despite the obvious fact that he's nowhere near 100 per cent healthy. More importantly, he made a huge point to the rest of the players on this team's roster: lead, follow, or get out of the way. When he was killing off a 5-on-3, I was amazed with the incredible leadership. Pretire #11.

A lot of fans will complain about the refereeing. Some of it might be warranted. The Sens too nine penalties (including a double-minor), and Pittsburgh took four, and I have a hard time believing the Pens were that innocent. The frustrating part of the calls, as Steve Warne of the Team 1200 elucidated in the post-game show, was when scrums around the net after the whistle, the refs only called a Sens player for a penalty. The most disappointing call in the game, though, was when Ottawa was on a powerplay mid-way through the third, and Heatley was given a double-minor by the back referee for high-sticking when Jordan Staal lifted his stick to get the puck. Although these penalty calls were deflating for the Sens, I don't think refereeing was the difference in the game.

The most disappointing Senator player, to me, was Chris Neil. I was really hoping that he would make up for an off-year by really stepping up his play in the playoffs, but he's been a liability on the whole. In tonight's game, he took three absolutely useless penalties (two for roughing and one for cross-checking), and that's unacceptable against an offensively powerful Penguins team. Including the six minutes tonight, Neil has taken 22 minutes so far in three playoff games. I'm not going to call for heads to roll, but he's got a lot to prove if he wants to stay with this team.

As I listen to the post-game show, there are laments for the season that was. As disappointing as this game three loss was, the Sens are still in the series. For the Sens to win game four, all they need is a little puck luck, some friendly refereeing, and for the best players to play their best. At this point, there's no reason for the Sens to leave anything in the tank, because it's the most literal of 'must-win' situations. I'll be at game four, and I'll be cheering as loud as I can.

And I promise if I see Gary Roberts around the arena, I'll cripple him.*

*not a real promise
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