The last two games have been ugly, to put it mildly. A pair of 4-1 losses to the Rangers, both of which saw the Rangers take a 4-0 lead before the Senators got a consolation goal. Game 4 wasn’t the Sens’ worst game of the playoffs, because nothing could live up to the flat effort they put up in Game 3.
Emotionally, I’m frustrated, but I try not to be ruled by my emotions. Instead I’d like to approach this with a bit of logic. After all, Game 1 was a dominant, dominant performance by the Sens that was almost stolen away by Henrik Lundqvist. Game 2 was pretty even, but a combination of Lunqvist and Pageau won it for the Sens. What changed so much between games?
One option is that home ice gave Alain Vigneault the chance to line match. It was pointed out that in Games 1 and 2, Guy Boucher hardly cared about lines, just rolling four lines continually. It looks like Vigneault did a bit more hard matching, at least in Game 4 (according to HockeyViz), putting Nash-Stepan-Vesey against Ryan-Pageau-Stone and keeping those three Rangers forwards away from Erik Karlsson. However, if Boucher was willing to play anyone against anyone early on, this can’t be the whole story.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the Sens’ passing seems off. Even the old standby, the D-to-D pass, seems to be hopping over sticks. In the offensive zone, players always seem to be looking for the Karlsson-to-Brassard beauty. To be fair, many pundits were declaring EK the best player in the playoffs thus far after that play, so maybe everyone wants that glory for themselves. The problem is nobody else is Erik Karlsson so it’s just not working. People seem to be mishandling the passes, or they aren’t even completed. I think the Sens need to go back to a simple game, putting pucks on net and looking for tips and rebounds and greasy goals. You’re rarely going to beat Lundqvist on a clean shot from distance. He tends to play deep in his net, so cross-ice passes aren’t as effective against him as they are against most goalies. If I watch one more Jason Spezza Special (TM) in Game 5, I must just break my TV.
Trevor also pointed out the sheer volume of odd-man chances given up to the Rags in Game 4. It looks like AV has figured out that the Sens’ system gives up breakaways and 2-on-1s to teams that are fast up the middle. I know it’s probably hard to tweak #TheSystem now, but there’s got to be a way to shore up the defence so the goalies aren’t always hung out to dry. Especially because the Rangers seems to have tightened up defensively so those passes aren’t working.
I think sloppy mistakes have had some to do with the last couple games (kind of like last series). Whether it’s Mark Stone and Karlsson colliding in the offensive zone, Craig Anderson not getting set for a shot that squeaks through, another puck-handling mistake by Andy, or guys just falling over because they forgot how to skate, the Sens are looking sloppy. The Rags look like an NHL team and the Sens are making mistakes like an OHL team. If your opponents aren’t giving you freebies, you’ve got to stop giving them to your opponent.
The last reason I can see, and I hate to make excuses, is injuries. Karlsson sat out the third period of Game 4. Stone is merely a top-six forward, not far and away Ottawa’s best forward. Other players could be playing hurt. But if you’re Ottawa, having both of your top players playing at 70% is not helpful at all. And there’s not much you can do about this. Sitting Karlsson for the third period is about the most you can do. Obviously this hasn’t changed from Game 1, but the more you play with an injury, the more your wear yourself down. You only have to look at Karlsson’s face after a big hit to know how much pain he’s in.
So... what do the Sens do about this? I’d like to see them tighten things up. The Sens managed to choke the life out of the Bruins in the neutral zone multiple times last game. I’d love to see that against the Rangers. The free-wheeling style seemed to surprise them early on, but they’ve adapated and are better at it. Take away the odd-man rushes, clog up the neutral zone, grind out a low-scoring win. And I’d love to see the team make like LMFAO and pump the shots, shots, shots (everybody). Stop trying to make a pretty play and accept you’ll have to beat Lundqvist with garbage. I still have faith in this team. Hopefully this is the wake-up call they need to just win. Go Sens Go!