When you see a 4-1 boxscore with the Ottawa Senators at the losing end of their Game One matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, you'll probably assume it was a pretty convincing win for the Pens. But it wasn't.
Although Pittsburgh deserves credit for converting their scoring opportunities, the Senators carried the majority of the 5-on-5 play outside of the first 6-8 minutes of the game. Ottawa's defenders were able to shut Sidney Crosby right down (he finished with no points, was -1 in plus-minus and -2 in Corsi), Jarome Iginla was barely visible, and Kris Letang was supremely quiet. In fact, among the big guns, only Evgeni Malkin was really "on" for Pittsburgh.
Ottawa also planted some good seeds in this game, so to speak. Cory Conacher has gotten under the skin of the Penguins, quite obviously, and you know that's going to continue; the refs don't seem to give him the benefit of the doubt, but hopefully he draws more penalties then he takes as the series goes on. Each of Sergei Gonchar, Chris Neil, and Kyle Turris worked over Malkin whenever possible, an attempt to rattle Number 71 and get him off his game (a tactic that has worked in the past). A better statement would have been an Ottawa victory, but they were able to do some good things in the series opener.
The good news for the Sens is that they weren't outclassed by a better team on Tuesday night; instead, they can work on the things that didn't go right to improve their chances for Friday. That means a lot of special-teams practice, a better showing from Craig Anderson, and more traffic in front of Tomas Vokoun to take advantage of the juicy rebounds he regularly kicks out. This series' highly unusual amount of time off might be a blessing for Ottawa.
Sens Zero: Special teams
The powerplay went 0-for-5 and the penalty kill was just 2-for-4. That is not just bad, it's absolutely abysmal and it's obviously not good enough. Ottawa's PP needs to improve, and the PK needs to find a way to keep the Penguins' big shooters in check. The number of practice days through the beginning of this round will be good in order to work on this, because it's got to get better. Immediately.
Sens Hero: Sergei Gonchar
Although he finished a -1, I thought Gonchar was the Sens' best defenceman against the Penguins. He kept Evgeni Malkin in check and finished a +8 on Corsi, tied with Chris Phillips (unsung Sens Hero) for best among Sens defenders. He's going to be very important in this series, and started out well.
Sens Hero: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Pageau was Ottawa's best skater in the first period, and his line was also Ottawa's best. I don't know where this kid's been hiding, but he's been a heck of a player for the Sens so far this post-season.
Honourable Mentions: These guys...
- Kyle Turris: Turris was a beast in the faceoff circle, his line (with Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek) generated lots of shots, and Turris was engaged physically, too--he was working over Evgeni Malkin without remorse.
- Erik Condra: He was your standard Erik Condra, plus more: He set up Greening for the Sens' lone goal, and made a few other great plays in the offensive zone.
- Marc Methot: Was good in the defensive zone, and had four shots on net to boot.
Dishonourable Mention: Craig Anderson
The Senators probably need .920 goaltending or better from Anderson if they're going to win this series, but they're definitely not going to win games with .867 goaltending. He held the fort through the Penguins' game-opening push, but let in some stoppable shots (especially the fourth goal). On the bright side, Anderson's a guy who bounces back from ugly losses with impressive efforts in the next game--watch what he does in Game Two.
Sens Zero: Milan Michalek
I'm going to continue ragging on Michalek, and I don't care if he's not 100% healthy--he needs to be better. Michalek was set up with a few great scoring chances tonight, and actually had four shots on goal, but the guy needs to find a way to convert his opportunities. The Sens need him.
Sens Zero: Jared Cowen
Although he hunkered down towards the end, Cowen really struggled at the start of the game when paired with Eric Gryba. He got worked by Evgeni Malkin on the Pens' second goal of the night (the eventual game winner), and was weak on the puck in the D zone.
The Teacher becomes the student: Eric Gryba
Gryba's taught a lot of opposing players that they shouldn't cut through the middle of the ice, but that lesson hadn't hit home to him--at least until Tuesday night. Gryba tried to toe-drag into the Penguins zone mid-way through the second period, but was stood up and decked by Brooks Orpik. Gryba looked woozy on the ice and was led to the dressing room by Sens trainer Gerry Townend. He didn't return due to the "upper-body injury," and the smart money says it's a concussion.