Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Take the good, learn from the bad

While a 4-0 loss is not the ideal way to start a series, I do think that there is some good stuff this team can build on, and some bad stuff this team can learn from. There's still a chance of earning a split on the road, as long as the Sens pick it up--big time--for game two.

First off, Martin Gerber is not the reason for the loss. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Gerber kept the Sens in this one through the second period. He made some solid saves, and can't really be faulted on any of the four goals:
  1. Wade Redden got brutally muscled off the puck (and it probably should have been a penalty) twice, and the puck squirted to Gary Roberts in front of the Sens net; Gerber had two guys lying in the crease and a third standing there.
  2. Mike Commodore made a terrible pinch, and Chris Phillips didn't play the 2-on-1 well at all. Gerber was set up perfectly for the shooter (Evgeni Malkin), while Phillips left the pass receiver (Petr Sykora) wide open. You learn it in Atom, Phillips; take the pass, let the goalie take the shot.
  3. This was just the case of a young rookie, Nick Foligno, makign a rookie mistake and losing his check, Malkin. When you let him get in the open, he'll make you pay.
  4. Write-off. Powerplay goal that went in off a foot, this was a fluke that any goalie could have surrendered.
If Gerber and the rest of the team can build off his play, then that's one question mark we can check off going into it.

After Gerber, there was some good work from the grinders. Role players like Dean McAmmond, Martin Lapointe, Cody Bass, and Christoph Schubert were all very physical, and they'll need to keep that up. Ottawa's fourth line was tremendously outplayed by Pittsburgh's, and George Laraque was able to make too much room for himself. Although Randy Robitaille had his moments, he fizzled when the game got more physical; I suggest throwing Lapointe on the top line in game two, and bringing in Brian McGrattan to try and contain Laraque. Even if they just fight and McGrattan brings him back to the box every five minutes, I'm fine with that.

Bad points were common. Obviously, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza need to develop more of an interest in the outcome of the game. Heatley looked particularly out of whack, even though his chirping was in fine form. They threw 12 shots towards the net, but they're going to need to get better shots if they think they're going to score some goals. This team is only going as far as those two take it, no matter how well the grinders play.

The play of the big two was part of a bigger problem: the Sens' powerplay. When you're given almost two full minutes of 5-on-3 time, you need to take advantage. Especially in such an urgent situation, because the Sens were down 2-0 at the time, and this game would have been very different had the Sens cut that lead in half on one of those powerplays. As it was, the team went 0-for-7 on the powerplay, which is unacceptable in the post-season. Things need to get dirty. And shots need to get smarter. Andrej Meszaros can't try and shoot through people; he fired two one-timers that were right into shinpads, both of which would have given the Pens breakaways had Meszaros not gotten back quickly enough. And the team can't fire 21 shots wide of the net. When you're winding up, make sure yo know where you're shooting. It's simple.

I still think the Sens have a shot to split this series in game two. The score made this game look a lot worse than it actually was, the Sens allowed a couple of bad goals early and a couple of bad goals late; between those, there was som great play. Keep playign hard on Sidney Crosby; he was limited in his ability, and good on Redden and Chris Neil for riding him around the net. Most of all, get right up in Marc-Andre Fleury's business. Make it hell for him to try and stop pucks, throw yourselves towards the net, and let your stick fly around him (without taking penalties, of course). He's rattle-able, so shake it up. Hopefully Anton Volchenkov is back for game two, and he makes some opponents feel his pain. And maybe Antoine Vermette will pull something out of his bag of tricks.
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