Now I really, really, really don't want to say that we told Dave Cameron so but... we did. After putting the team's leading goal scorer on the 4th line for the last bit of the season and the first three games of the series, Mike Hoffman was finally put on the team's second line for a majority of the game (not after the team was trailing!). What does he do? Spark the brilliant play of his linemates by turning them into the Senators strongest possession line and importantly, scores the lone goal of the game, his 27th even-strength goal of the season, to give the Senators a 1-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Of course, a shutout win is always a team effort, so let's get into who played well and who didn't.
Game Flow from Natural Stat Trick (with markings by me; follow the numbers in the text below that correspond to the numbers on the picture)
(1) As you can see above, the game only really had one stretch where the Senators weren't carrying the play (as measured by even-strength shot attempt numbers), and that was the first 10 minutes. Montreal jumped out to an early 6-0 lead in shots, with the Gallagher line and Jeff Petry doing most of the damage.
(2) On one shift, Petry raced up the ice and was defended well by Borowiecki, but long after the puck was gone, Boro rode Petry into the boards, leading to a penalty. Later in the period, Borowiecki was forced into taking a penalty on David Desharnais after Subban spins Curtis Lazar around. As if they were screaming "this game is going to be different!!!", the Senators penalty killers, led by Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Erik Condra, were aggressive from the start and didn't give Montreal the time and space they needed to set up all game. Although the Habs have only scored one powerplay goal on (now) 15 attempts, we've seen that they've been very dangerous, generating a ton of shot attempts and chances when they get set-up. Thus, the ability of the penalty killers to stymie the Habs attack in the neutral zone is key, and that's what we saw tonight.
(3) Of course, their goaltender was there to stop anything that came his way, and Anderson was strong on the 11 Habs shots in the period, including an in-tight save on Tomas Plekanec. The team as a whole rebounded to end the first by outshooting Montreal 9-5 after the initial flurry, and the pace of the play picked up considerably. A stretch of 7 minutes without a whistle helped the period end quickly, lasting only ~25 minutes by my rough approximation. There weren't many scoring chances, but two notable ones for the Senators included Erik Condra beating Price to the short side early (but hitting the post) and Mark Stone almost finishing a nice passing play but ended up being unable to get a powerful shot through, hinting to us that although his wrist is moving a little better, it's still nowhere near it should be.
In the intermission interview with David Amber (CBC/Sportsnet), Marc Methot spoke about how the team was nervous at the start of the game at the prospect of elimination - as expected for a young team with minimal playoff experience - but that the focus was to stay calm and keep out of the box for the remaining 40 minutes. Other than a weird penalty that I'll talk about in just a bit, I think the Senators did just that.
(4) The second started off with great offensive zone pressure for the Senators, with the usual suspects, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, doing what they do best - playing with speed. Their strong play led to a drawn penalty after Kyle Turris beat a couple defenders and took the puck around the net, before sending it to Cody Ceci, who was hooked before he can pass it to an open Stone. On the ensuing powerplay, the Senators generated sustained pressure with Mike Hoffman taking the scratched David Legwand's spot, but were unable to capitalize.
(5) The weirdest play of the game saps a bit of the momentum from the rising Senators, as on an offensive zone draw, two Sens forwards are kicked out of the faceoff circle twice, leading to a penalty. Now, I know what you're thinking. Since when has that ever been a call? I know that I've never seen it, and especially given the circumstance, it's a really strange call to make, but anyways, a couple of key blocks by Marc Methot and Eric Gryba, in addition to some strong positional saves from Craig Anderson, helps keep the refs out of the headlines.
(6) The penalty really slowed down the rest of the period, which is why there's a lot of horizontal lines on the game flow chart above. Kyle Turris starts to work his magic again though, and draws a penalty as he gets into Price's grill for an in-close opportunity after Erik Karlsson pinched down the boards and shovelled the puck to him. It was a pretty eventful powerplay. First, Craig Anderson stops Brandon Prust on a breakaway, leading to this wonderful reaction.
GIF: Anderson save on Prust pic.twitter.com/eX1jm6DtCt— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 23, 2015
Then, Zibanejad, Wiercioch, and Karlsson set up the umbrella (Zibanejad left; Wiercioch middle; Karlsson right) and bombed away at the Habs penalty killers. It was a unique formation that used the strengths of those three, and was successful in both keeping offensive zone time and generating chances. A couple of big shot blocks helped prevent any damage though, although Glenn Healy and co. may tell you otherwise.
"that penalty kill was helped by a trifecta of saves by Price" - Healy.... uhh Price made none: two blocks by #21, missed high.— 『 ary 』 (@carteciel) April 23, 2015
Little things like this are important when talking about hockey, especially because many like to take what the commentators/analysts say as gospel. With someone like Price though, it's so easy to inform your narrative with things that actually happened (strong sequences of saves); there's no need to fabricate or gloat with a talent like him, which makes me even more annoyed.
Anyways, the refs put the whistles away for the rest of the game, and it was clear after both teams could've easily been called on some plays (Gallagher, Galchenyuk interfering with Anderson; Emelin, Zibanejad cross-checking each other) but weren't.
(7/8) Want to know what song was played in the Sens dressing room during the second intermission? Look at that little black line and sing: "It's all about the cliiiiiiiiiiiiimb"
Easily the most impressive period of the game for the Senators started off with the Pageau and Zibanejad lines going to work. Condra and Lazar had a pair of scoring chances in the slot, but either missed the net or are stopped by Price. Hoffman, getting regular second line shifts since his third shift in the game, starts to take over at this point and deked around a couple Habs but is unable to get a shot away. On his next shift, Hoffman gets the Sens on the board with a lightning quick wrist shot (supposedly only 12 km/h less than Subban's slap shot goal from Game 2 according to Sportsnet) that's perfectly timed with Mika Zibanejad crashing the net to screen Price.
(9) I harp on Dave Cameron a lot when I don't think he uses his players properly, so it's only appropriate for me to give him ample praise when he does, like tonight.
Looking at the shift chart from War On Ice, we can see a couple things. First, I wanted to point out how EARLY Hoffman got put onto the second line. If you look at the time of the game (just after the 10 minute mark in the first), and link it with the possession numbers, you can see that Cameron put Hoffman here after the Senators came out of the gate slow, permitting Montreal to take a 6-0 lead in shots. What he saw was enough to keep Hoffman there for the rest of the game, as the trio ended between 11-12 minutes of even-strength ice time. Read that last sentence again. 11-12 minutes of EV ice-time is THIRD line minutes, but before you get up in arms about it, I think it was the "sacrifice" that Cameron made to keep the trio together. All three started EVERY shift in the offensive zone, often paired with Wiercioch - Ceci (87% offensive zone start at even-strength) and unsurprisingly, they were all >60% in CF% tonight, with the Zibanejad line all above 80% (!!!!). Thus, although they weren't sheltered in terms of competition, Cameron made it clear that they were put together to score (they did) and weren't trusted to play defense.
Who got the defensive zone minutes? Interestingly, it wasn't the 4th line, who had 100% offensive zone starts as well, but instead, the Turris line, followed by the Pageau line. It's important context to consider, as although the Pageau line is historically dominant in terms of possession numbers and weren't tonight (team low numbers), their defensive minutes helped make life easier for Zibanejad and co. to dominate on the offensive side of the puck. Don't get me wrong - it's not like the Pageau line was filled in either. Their team worst possession numbers were around 44% CF%, much better that the 20-40% we see from other lines used in that role, and their tenacity on the puck was duly noted all night, especially Erik Condra. If you follow the blocks on the shift chart as well, you can see that the Pageau line was often deployed with the third pairing, perhaps helping the latter move the puck out of the zone and insulate their poor defensive play so far this series.
On defense, the much-maligned third pair had the most defensive zone starts in their ~14 minutes of even-strength ice time, with Methot - Karlsson even. The other reason why I'm pointing out Cameron's player usage is due to his effective usage of his defense during the last 10 minutes of the third. If you look at the bottom right of the shift chart (in the black box for illustrative purposes), we can see that Borowiecki - Gryba get regular shifts until the 50 minute mark, where they only have two shifts together to end the game off. The 4th line is benched too, and instead, their ice-time is given to the best possession lines - MacArthur-Turris-Stone; Lazar-Pageau-Condra. Interestingly, the Zibanejad line still took offensive zone shifts at the end of the game, and rightly so, as they ate up time by keeping the puck in the Habs zone.
The only two Montreal chances I remember come from Dale Weise and Torrey Mitchell, but both are stopped by Anderson as two of his 28 saves. The Senators forecheck was much better tonight, and it can't be exemplified more by Mark Stone's dogged pursuit of the puck in the final minute of play, preventing Carey Price from leaving his net until 30 seconds left, and then following it up by mauling a Habs defender as he tries to exit the zone with control in order to set-up.
I'll see all of you on Friday night.
One game at a time. pic.twitter.com/RPpxmVQxtR— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 23, 2015
P.S. (in case it wasn't obvious in my recap)
Sens Heroes: Craig Anderson, Pageau - Condra, Hoffman - Zibanejad.
Honourable Mention: Dave Cameron (should've had Hoffman on the 2nd line since Game 1 but glad he came to his senses tonight)
Sens Zeroes: NOBODY CAUSE WE WON
Sens Killers: NOBODY CAUSE WE SHUT THEM OUT
I'm always open to feedback so please let me know if you like this new recap style! Thanks for reading.