The second periods have been largely disastrous for Ottawa during this series - losing the lead in that period in the first two games, and being out-shot by a brutal 5:1 last night. What is it about the middle frame that seems to tilt the ice against the Senators?
Michaela: Sens have struggled in the second period almost all season long. As such a young team, it could just be that they sit back when they take the lead after a strong first period. In this series specifically, I think Montreal pushes back a bit in the second, and Ottawa has a hard time adjusting.
Peter: I think it's less about the middle frame, and more about Ottawa's apparent inability to protect a lead. Although they're good at staging comebacks, they have struggled to protect leads for the last few weeks; it could be a result off the youth on this team, but I think it's more due to the strategies of the coaching staff. The Sens need to focus less on protecting leads and more on expanding leads by maintaining their pace and pushing offence instead of trying to contain Montreal's push.
Richard: I’d have to argue that overtime has been more of an issue than the second period… In all seriousness though, it appears to me to be an issue of taking our foot off the gas at inopportune times in general. I’ve had to miss a lot of the games due to being in the middle of exams, but in the play I have seen, some of our best puck movers just seem to be having a lot more trouble than usual holding on to or receiving the puck. Watching the end of the game last night, I remember watching Wiercioch break out with a pass and just feeling like it wasn’t going to connect properly, and then it didn’t. We’ve had moments of brilliance and moments of infuriating sloppiness. The Habs seem to be capitalizing on those better in the second and in OT.
Ross: Is it the long change? My watching of the games says no, but it's always a possibility. I think people have said it here well - Ottawa doesn't protect leads well, and they've had the lead entering the second period of each game. Each second period has been terrible for the Sens. I'd disagree with Richard, in that last night's OT Ottawa carried the play for most of it, and Montreal scored on maybe their second chance. Ottawa looked like a team desperate to win, and Montreal got the bounce. But yesterday's second period, Ottawa once again looked like a team that only wanted a participation medal.
Ian: It seems as though the Sens are sitting back a bit too much, hoping to just survive the period. It seemed at times last night that the Sens were executing the dump-and-change strategy all too often, not wanting to get caught out there for too long with the long change. As such, they forfeited their possession and the Habs got a clean breakout. In the other periods, the Sens were in hard on the forecheck (even just one or two guys) to disrupt the clean breakout. They need to find a way to do the same in the second period.
The depth players on Montreal's roster were identified before the series started as a key weakness that could be exploited by Ottawa, but it was the fourth line that did the Sens in for Game 1, and the third line that did the deed last night. Were those predictions off, is Ottawa mishandling the Habs bottom 6 that badly, or is it just the way the bounces have been going?
Michaela: No one saw Montreal's forward depth as a threat going into this series. In games 2 and 3, Ottawa may have been watching Montreal's top players a little too closely, while underestimating their bottom six. But in game 1, Montreal was without two of their best players (Pacioretty and Subban), and Ottawa still wasn't able to control the depth players.
As a rookie head coach, Dave Cameron may be struggling with line match-ups. Whatever the reason, I think the number of goals by bottom six players on Montreal goes beyond a few lucky bounces.
Peter: I guess all three? Or maybe an alternative: Ottawa's third pairing doesn't have the foot speed to defend against faster depth players on Montreal's bottom two lines. Although Borowiecki has good quickness and physicality, he isn't great at gathering loose pucks and advancing them out of the zone; this, combined with Gryba's sluggishness, leads to second and third chances against the Senators, and those end up with extra scoring opportunities and goals.
Richard: I’d also argue all three. I feel like this season brought back a kind of magic I hadn’t felt in hockey for a long time. Since I’ve been focusing more on analytics and trying to analyze match-ups and optimizing success, I wouldn’t say my enjoyment of hockey has gone down, but it has felt like the narrative shifted. This season changed that, or at least reminded me that really special things can happen for teams, players and lines that the numbers don’t really support. In the case of Hammond in particular, the numbers can be in direct opposition to what you see on the ice. In spite of the fact that regression is inevitable, our notions, or even our core beliefs of what it takes to be successful can be undermined by unlikely on-ice events. It’s really nice when it happens in our favour (robble), and utterly heartbreaking when the pendulum swings the other way and Dale "Kyle Turris’ and Lou Ferrigno’s Love Child" Weise single-handedly puts game 3 away. The biggest reason I thought the Sens could take this series was because of how our depth matched up, but no one expected Hammond to carry us into the playoffs and no expected to have our lunch fed to us by Prust’s line. Hockey is like that, I guess.
Ross: I don't know if those predictions were that off. Montreal's bottom six hasn't looked amazing, but they've got the job done. I think part of that is bounces - like Andy said, Weise's OT winner was a perfectly-placed shot. Weise doesn't hit that shot 97 times out of 100. A big part is deployment as well. Without Hoffman, the second line can't carry any play. With Chris Neil, the fourth line is in bad shape. With Mark Stone hurt, the first line isn't so dominant. Suddenly, Cameron has one possession beast line instead of the three he had for the past few months. That's messed up the whole matchup game. And like people have pointed out, Borocop and Gryba have looked overmatched. Neither one moves the puck well, Gryba doesn't skate well, and Montreal's speed has exposed them. The last thing I think is that Cody Ceci looks a lot worse in the playoffs. I don't know if it's nerves or what, but he looked a lot better three weeks ago.
In short, I think the biggest problem is that Ottawa's depth has evaporated. Montreal would be in trouble against the Sens of late March. The Sens of today aren't playing well.
Ian: Montreal's depth has done a good job in putting themselves in the right position to score. They haven't done anything flashy out there, but they have played the game they need to play, which is getting the puck on net and looking for a rebound. We need to be able to rely on our goalie for that first stop and then our defence needs to make sure there aren't any follow-up opportunities.
The Senators played some of their best hockey of the season when facing elimination. Will the team's play bounce back enough to give them a legitimate shot at extending the series?
Michaela: At the beginning of the series, I joked that this team would go down 3-0 just to come back in dramatic fashion. I didn't think it would actually happen. Obviously, as a fan, I hope they can win at least one or two games to avoid the sweep. The LA Kings of last year taught us that anything can happen when trailing 3-0 in a series. But we know where the odds are tilted. The only solution is to take it one game at a time from here on. Just win the next game.
Peter: I think the Senators should be able to win at least one game in this series. The first three were one-goal losses, including two overtime losses; if a bounce or two go Ottawa's way next game, the end result will be different than the previous three games.
Richard: Probably not. [Rec'd for Alfie reference, flagged for predicting a sweep - B_T]
Ross: I don't think it will be a sweep. Only Anaheim can keep up this kind of success in one-goal games. That being said, the idea that Ottawa will win four in a row against the best goalie in the league and the potential Norris Trophy winner? I don't like their chances.
Ian: Sens in Seven. Who knows with this team! A legitimate shot of winning? Hard to say there is. But there's still a shot. It starts with winning Game 4 and going from there.