Well, that was less fun.
Coming off of the heels of a well-deserved Game 1 victory, the Sens were looking to head back to Ottawa with a 2-0 series lead. And due to the final score, it’s easy to rue the day because ‘one shot’ could’ve accomplished this goal. However, if you’d told us before the series that they’d be going home with a 1-1 split -- I think most of us would’ve taken it, and that’s where they are.
Period 1 started off much like Game 1, with the Sens keeping the Pens to the outside while generating more shots (10 – 8 in favour of the folks in white). The Pageau – Ryan connection looked sharp, while the Malkin – Kessel duo stayed as the Pens most dangerous.
The two differences – and potential hints that Game 1 was going to be a little different than Game 2? One: Sidney Crosby was generating chances, with Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel getting two shots in tight early. Second: the physicality. Dion Phaneuf started the hit parade that persisted throughout Game 2 by knocking Rust out of the game with an open-ice hit.
Afterwards, Hoffman pushed Schultz while in on the forecheck and the Pens blueliner collided with the boards awkwardly. He also didn’t return with what looked to be a shoulder injury, reducing the already-depleted Pens to 5 blueliners for the rest of the game.
Conor Sheary responded by taking out Wideman on the forecheck, but unlike Hoffman, he was called for the penalty. Looking at this angle though [LINK], it’s hard to know what the Pens faithful were booing at as there was a clear toe-pick; although Wideman landed hard, he stayed in the game. Lucky for the Penguins, the Sens powerplay extended its dry run to 7 games (0/17).
Big hit by Phaneuf, if you're into that kind of thing. pic.twitter.com/ZY2JzUtesM— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) May 16, 2017
The physical play and injuries seemed to motivate the Penguins, as they came out flying for period two and controlled the rest of the game (68% CF% in periods two and three). Although all four Pens lines seemed to have extended zone time in the Sens zone, Claesson/Methot - Karlsson struggled against an improved Crosby tonight. Time after time, Crosby set up Sheary and Guentzel with deft chances in the offensive zone only to have his wingers either missed the net, or were stopped by Anderson – who was excellent for the second game in a row.
The other big story was the Pens fourth line of Rowney – Cullen – Wilson generating momentum by modelling an aggressive forecheck in the offensive zone. Wilson led the Pens with 9 hits, many on the Sens D corps. I should add, though, that unlike Games 3 and 4 against the Rangers, the Sens didn’t look physically outmatched tonight. In fact, the big names on both teams (Crosby, Guentzel, Hoffman, Turris, Phaneuf) all ended up in the box at some point due to coincidental penalties from slashes, scrums, or aggressive board play. Sorry, Chris Neil fans, I don’t think you’ll see him in Game 3.
The only goal of the game came from the rabid Phil Kessel, who was talking to himself all night and even got into a fight with his linemate, Evgeni Malkin, on the bench. As the Sens saw in Game 2 vs. the Bruins, teammate fights happen all the time, and sure enough, Malkin got Kessel the puck with a little bit of space high in the offensive zone and the burly winger scored on his second attempt (and first shot of the night) to put the Pens up 1 – 0 with 7 minutes left.
After going 18:53 without a shot through the second and the third, the Sens ended up firing seven on Marc-Andre Fleury by the end of the period – with all coming in the last 4 minutes. There was some notable pressure, with Boucher putting Chris Wideman and Erik Karlsson together for a max offense pairing but the former missed the net wide on the team’s two best offensive zone looks at even-strength. After a Sens timeout for a 6-on-5 opportunity, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, and JG Pageau had chances to give the Sens yet another magical moment, but fell short.
- Pittsburgh didn’t do any damage on a second period powerplay with Erik Karlsson in the box, but had a golden opportunity after Karlsson (and two other defenders) got stuck on the ice for three consecutive icings. Tommy Wingels (!) won three faceoffs and the Sens survived, though.
- Only one Penguin finished <50% in shot attempts tonight (Brian Dumoulin); only three Senators finished >50% (MacArthur, Turris, Hoffman). Yikes.
- Once again, Craig Anderson was solid. He tracked the puck well, didn’t come out of his net all that often, and placed his rebounds in good spots (just like Game 1). Final shot totals were 29 - 23 Pittsburgh, and going by the heatmap below, it was one of the easiest shutouts of Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff career.
- Why couldn’t the Sens generate offence like Game 1? I’ll give the credit to Mike Sullivan, who made adjustments with the Pens forecheck to have them stay in the Sens zone longer. Don’t get fooled: the Sens still did a great job of limiting quality overall (expected goals at 1.71 for Pittsburgh), it’s just that they generated squat (xGF = 0.89 for Ottawa). With the neutral zone stuff basically the same as Game 1, the Sens mainly had trouble breaking out cleanly from their own zone, and when they did, they couldn’t enter the Pens zone with control OR were too tired so they could only dump and change. Unlike Game 1, the Sens had problems with their breakouts, didn’t have their second forward in the right position, or didn’t support the puck carrier as they tried to transition from defence to offence. Look for this to change in Game 3.