Remember folks, you're not at a disadvantage until you lose a game on home ice. That being said, it'll be up to the Ottawa Senators to respond to a tough two games in Montreal with their best effort yet, and they need players from all over the lineup to step up.
If I had to identify a theme from tonight's game, it's that the Sens seem way too complacent to let Montreal dictate the game and instead, are stuck responding to the play of their opponents by instinct, often in an unstructured way. Notably, Dave Cameron's aggressive forecheck was almost non-existent, and the puck support by having all five men travel up the ice as a unit just weren't there. As a result, the Sens were stretched out and exploited in transition often - something that needs to change in Game 3.
The game didn't start off that way. In a fast-paced opening five minutes, both teams traded chances, with Brendan Gallagher making his presence known early and the physical play from Game 1 continuing. The Sens were skating well, and led to an Alex Galchenyuk penalty as the Russian-American winger got his stick up on Eric Gryba (P.S. keep an eye out for these two names to re-appear later on). It led to a solid powerplay for Ottawa, with Captain Erik Karlsson active early, and surprise game-time decision Mark Stone showing that he's still more than capable of stealing the puck with his one good hand, with two offensive zone takeaways in a five second span.
Two groups of players who had strong Game 1 performances started off Game 2 on a similar note, with the third pair of Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba matched up to counter the physicality of the Habs 4th line of Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell, and Brandon Prust. Overall, these players reverted back to their regular season self and ended the game with the lowest possession numbers on their respective teams.
Special teams were huge in tonight's game, and Montreal's powerplay looked extremely dangerous. An early Milan Michalek interference penalty led to a distraught 2 minutes by Ottawa's penalty killers, the usual for most of the game, with lots of reaction via instinct rather than playing with structure. The Gallagher - Plekanec - Galchenyuk unit generated a ton of chances thanks to won faceoffs by Plekanec, who rebounded from his poor performance at the faceoff dot on Wednesday, but Andrew Hammond was up to the task. To counter this as if to win back momentum, Dale Weise took a hooking penalty on Michalek and the Sens second unit featuring Patrick Wiercioch and Mika Zibanejad, made a couple of strong plays using their strengths: Wiercioch using his deceptive wrist shot to get the puck through traffic, and Zibanejad using his size and speed to deke through multiple Habs players on the entry, but Price was able to keep the game scoreless.
Although the Sens don't score on the powerplay, the second-half of the period is all Ottawa (after Montreal had the better first-half). Just to quickly note how stupid stereotypes are, there was a play (that wasn't showed at all by the Sportsnet crew, mind you) where Karlsson laterally crossed over to check the bigger Brandon Prust to deny him a chance on an odd-man rush, and then took a hit from Prust to ensure a clean zone exit. A couple minutes later, we see "good Ontario boy" P.K. Subban dodging a hit from Mike Hoffman (!!!) in the offensive zone and icing the puck. Other than a mini-stretch in the 3rd, this was the main bit of pressure the Sens put on the Habs, and their strong play was rewarded as Mark Stone dishes the puck to Clarke MacArthur in the offensive zone, who then snipes it glove-side on Price while Subban was left defenseless on a 2-on-1.
GIF: Awesome camera angle for this great shot from MacArthur pic.twitter.com/BOryduHqH1— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 17, 2015
This tweet from our very own B_T sums up the period nicely - a good road period overall for the Senators.
Was a bit of a rough period for most of it, but the Sens really put the pressure on in the last 5 or so pic.twitter.com/rKFgLgZVub— B T (@Sammich_BLT) April 18, 2015
Almost as a signal that the rest of the game wasn't going to go the Senators way, the second period starts off with Hammond botching a Max Pacioretty shot and David Desharnais, his usual linemate, almost pots the rebound but is hindered by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. As stated by the referees before the start of the game, the officiating was strict, and much to Dave Cameron's chagrin, the Senators were often at the wrong end of it, leading to fragmented play and the inability for Ottawa to regain their structure. It started with a bad Clarke MacArthur penalty after he boarded Game 1's star, Brian Flynn, right in the numbers. Much like their first time around, the Sens PK was porous in front of Hammond and were often caught chasing the Habs around as they attacked in layers. Although Hammond stood tall, he had questionnable positioning as the puck worked its way around the umbrella to Max Pacioretty, who quickly flicks a wrist shot by the 'burglar while he was standing up instead of in butterfly position.
After that goal, the pace picked up in a big way, with the Habs feeding off the energy from the Bell Centre and entering the Senators zone frequently and with control. The Senators manage to survive, with Patrick Wiercioch making a couple of great defensive plays on the rush, including a nice stick play on P.K. Subban, and the Pageau line generating Ottawa's only offensive zone time. The Senators penalty killers, led by Andrew Hammond's key stops on Pacioretty and Smith-Pelly, manage to bail out Marc Methot after the Ottawa native takes a holding penalty while trying to recover after a bad defensive play, but aren't so lucky after the penalty expires. The Smith-Pelly line manages to isolate all of Ottawa's forwards on the right side, and Devante banks the puck off the side boards right into P.K. Subban's wheelhouse, who fires a 140km/h shot past Hammond to give Montreal the lead. Yes, Hammond wasn't screened and was looking small in his net, but I have no idea how he could possibly get to a perfectly placed shot that whizzed by his ear; the lack of pressure on Subban didn't help as P.K could easily pick his spot.
Karlsson, Zibanejad, and Michalek try to respond near the end of the period, with EK generating some chances off the rush and Michalek having a scramble chance in front of the net, but isn't able to put it past a sprawling Carey Price. Although the Habs were aided a couple of powerplays, the shots in the second were 14-3, and Montreal's transition game was notable, stretching out the Senators and limiting their ability to dictate the play.
The third period starts off much the same as the first, with a Patrick Wiercioch tripping penalty sending the Sens to the PK, and Mike Hoffman following that up. Notably, Lars Eller drew both calls that looked rather soft by my eye, but obviously wasn't questioned at all. The Sens PK, knowing that they had to be better, were more aggressive on the Habs entries and inhibited them from setting up, with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Erik Condra being workhorses and using their speed to get inside position to use their stick play to break up any entries. Later on, Cody Ceci, who had a really rough Game 1, makes a fantastic defensive play on a 3 on 1 by using his sweet hand-eye coordination to take away the passing lane and clear the puck while remaining on his feet. Up until the 10 minute mark of the 3rd, the Senators were unable to enter the Habs zone with puck support and consistent pressure, with a lot of fragmentation all across the lineup. Luckily for them, Alexei Emelin, who could've been guilty on a number of borderline plays in the game, took a bad interference penalty on Clarke MacArthur, and the Senators managed to capitalize. Patrick Wiercioch (!) ends up witht he puck down low and decides to bring the puck to the net to attack Price. It ends up being a good decision from the blueliner, who uses his slick hands (!!) to slide the puck through Price's five-hole. Notably, Mark Stone picked up his second primary assist of the game on the initial dump-in.
Ottawa then starts to press a lot to try and win the game in regulation, with Cody Ceci and Curtis Lazar playing well in the Habs end, and Mark Stone almost breaking through three Habs players to score (how fun would that have been?). However, with under two minutes to play, Marc Methot takes another penalty, this time on Devante Smith-Pelly, forcing the overtaxed Senators penalty killers to survive one last time. As the game carries over to overtime, the Habs early powerplay pressure doesn't lead to a goal, but it's not long after until Eric Gryba flubs the puck on a zone exit and the excellent Plekanec line going to work. The Habs top centre sends the puck to Brendan Gallagher, who directs the puck towards Hammond. The Sens goaltender handles it awkwardly, and Alex Galchenyuk picks up the rebound and quickly fires it on an un-set Hammond, winning the game (told you Gryba + Galchenyuk would re-emerge).
Sens Heroes: Erik Karlsson, Mika Zibanejad, Patrick Wiercioch
I could easily put the Lazar - Pageau - Condra line here, but they've been consistently good no matter what. These three had weaker games (in different ways) on Wednesday, but rebounded in a big way tonight. Karlsson had a 25.05 Corsi Rel, one of the few Senators players with positive possession numbers, and led the rush a number of times to generate chances. Mika Zibanejad used his size and speed to make up for his poor Game 1 performance and carried his line to a strong game, as the second line was one of the few I never noticed in the defensive zone. Ditto for Patrick Wiercioch, who made a number of tidy defensive plays and scored to give him three points in three career playoff games.
Honourable Mentions: Mark Stone, Andrew Hammond
Both of these are likely controversial picks. Stone might as well be a hero, but was unable to generate a shot attempt despite managing two primary assists. As an update on his game, he used his left hand a lot and was able to take the puck away often, but couldn't do anything with the puck after that. He could barely shoot the puck during warmup, leading to speculation that the young star wouldn't play, but still managed to make a positive impact.
Hammond was questionable on both the first and third Habs goals due to his inability to set himself properly in position, but made a number of key saves in close on the penalty kill and at even-strength. He had barely any support defensively, as you can see in the shot attempt chart in the tweet below, and still ended the game with a .929 save percentage. It's hard to rag on a guy who has now lost his first two games in a row EVER in his NHL career. It'll be interesting to see what Cameron does: do you go with the goaltender who got you here? Or do you go with the proven, but rusty, Craig Anderson for Game 3 in Ottawa? Do you go with the proven track record in a must-win situation? Like I said at the beginning of this recap, it's not a disadvantage until you lose on home ice.
Hammond may get the blame for the game-winner, but don't forget -- this is what he faced tonight: pic.twitter.com/SLXveQLndr— WAR On Ice (@war_on_ice) April 18, 2015
Game Flow via Natural Stat Trick (EV)
Game 3 on Sunday night is going to be huge for the Senators. With Stone injured, the Senators need to optimize their lineup to get every advantage they can. Whether that involves Andrew Hammond or Craig Anderson remains to be seen, though I think starting leading goal scorer Mike Hoffman on the 2nd line may help the Sens garner an advantage as well. The strong play of Karlsson, Zibanejad, and Patrick Wiercioch are good signs, and all three will have to continue for the Senators to emerge victorious. If the Sens weren't playing the Habs, I would've been completely content with the playoff experience (win or lose) due to the heroic effort it took to even make the playoffs this year. Against Montreal though, I want to win.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Clarke MacArthur: "When have we ever made things easy on ourselves this year?"</p>— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) <a href="https://twitter.com/ian_mendes/status/589252244392017920">April 18, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Thanks for reading!
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Positive is that Cameron didn't fall prey to the we need toughness angle after the Subban shenanigans. Hopefully Neil stays out on Sunday.</p>— Subcommander Adnan (@sens_adnan) <a href="https://twitter.com/sens_adnan/status/589255333769453568">April 18, 2015</a></blockquote>
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