In the first three games of the Eastern Conference Semi-Final series between the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins, goaltender Tomas Vokoun has allowed six goals on 106 shots and looked like a league elite goaltender. Truly, he is a great goaltender; if he weren't, he wouldn't have 700 regular season NHL games under his belt. But he's not this good.
Thankfully, the Senators are finding ways to get pucks past him. It seems Colin Greening knew how to do it right from the start, but the rest of the team should be figuring it out by now: Get lots of shots--especially from in close--and track down the ubiquitous rebounds (there are plenty) to knock them in. That's what's worked for Ottawa so far, and (barring flukey goals, which always happen) it's all that will work tonight and through the rest of the series. Say it with me, Sens skaters: Be like Colin.
Don't believe me? Let's go through all the goals the Sens have scored on Vokoun this series; don't worry, it won't take long.
Game One: Colin Greening
First up, a total garbage goal (and I mean that as a compliment) where the shot powering the puck into the net actually took place behind the back of Vokoun. Virtually anyone who gets to take a shot from behind the goalie will get it in, but this was the result of a few things: A shot (glove side; take note of that) from in close, traffic in front of the net, taking advantage of the opposition's weakest defence pairing (Deryk Engelland and Douglas Murray), and a pinch of persistence.
Game Two: Kyle Turris
This goal was probably the result of some detailed pre-scouting on the part of the Senators: A perfect shot short-side against Vokoun's weak glove hand. It was also a shot from in tight. It was a powerplay goal, as well; if they're not doing it already (I didn't notice in Game Three), maybe the Sens should have Turris and/or Jason Spezza play along the goal line (as Turris did here) to watch for a short-side opening, pass to the man in front of the net, or pass to a breaking defender on the opposite side. (Of course, that depends on the Senators gaining control of the puck in the offensive zone on the powerpay, something that's been rather difficult for them this playoffs.)
Game Two: Colin Greening
This was a pure beauty which will be difficult to replicate, but you'll notice three things of importance: It was a shot from in close, it was short-side on Vokoun's glove hand, and Engelland and Murray were once again on the ice. Even if the execution won't be replicated, those weaknesses can be leveraged into offensive production.
Game Two: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
A shot from the slot, a mess of bodies in front of the net, an uncontrolled rebound, and a Senators forward driving in, finding the puck, and cashing it in. Guillaume Latendresse isn't in the lineup anymore, but this is one area where he'd excel if he draws back in at some point (although hopefully he doesn't, because that would mean either a Sens loss or an injury. Sorry, Lats). Anyone can do it, though: Get in front of the net and make the lives of the Penguins defenders (especially Letang, who is easily rattled) and Vokoun a living nightmare. Oh, also: Engelland was on the ice, and Engelland was on the ice, although in fairness it was Evgeni Malkin's lackadaisical coverage that left Pageau wide open.
Game Three: Daniel Alfredsson
Phew still gives me goosebumps (this post was really just an excuse to embed this video again [not really]). What we see here is a very reactionary Penguins team just get worked by a desperate Senators team. Although it was a shot from the point, that wasn't really what did it; it was more of a shot-pass on a perfectly executed play that caught Vokoun going the wrong way and a lot of Penguins defenders standing still. You may also have noticed where Alfie chose to tip the puck: Glove side.
Game Three: Colin Greening
This wondrous beast of a goal took place with three Pens defencemen on the ice (Matt Niskanen, who'd just returnd from the penalty box, Mark Eaton, and Brooks Orpik), which created a bit of confusion for Pittsburgh. But the actual goal happened because there was a rebound Vokoun couldn't rein in and a player willing to do what it would take to get it and put it in the net: Greening, once again. Because Benoit's shot was a snapper from in close, Vokoun wasn't able to direct it where he wanted it to go; after the save, the puck died in front of the crease, and Greening got his stick on it before anyone else.
As the videos show™, Tomas Vokoun is far from invulnerable. The following trends can be explored as possible ways to improve the odds of scoring on him:
- He's apparently got issues stopping shots short-side on his trapper (right) side
- He lets out a lot of rebounds
- Pittsburgh's defence, particularly the Engelland-Murray pairing, is vulnerable
- Whenever possible, shoot from closer to the net rather than from the point
- If a point shot is necessary, cause a ruckus in front of the net and tip the shot
... while a lot of this can probably be said about any goaltender, we're not worried about them; we're worried about Vokoun. He's done well so far against the Senators, but there are very real and very noticeable weaknesses in his (and his team's) game that Senators must recognize and capitalize on if they're going to win this series. As nice as it would be, Craig Anderson is not going to maintain the .980 save percentage he posted in Game Three. Ottawa needs to score. This is how they can improve their odds of doing so.