Saturday, May 13, 2006

Another must win

Wednesday night's game 3 wasn't quite a must win game for the Ottawa Senators, yet it was as close to one as you can get, and the response we saw was beyond discouraging. There was little reason to think they'd bounce back down 0-3, yet they played their most complete game of the series.

How much of that was because the pressure was off? Everyone had written them off and called the series already, so they in a lot of ways they had nothing to lose. Now that we've all gotten a ray of hope, will they break our hearts all over again?

Here's 7 ways to not make it happen:

1. Start strong

Scoring the first goal would be ideal, obviously, but Ottawa needs a big first period in order to win this game. That was the case in game four, and one of the reasons they ended up with the W, I believe. Had Buffalo come out gunning, I'm not sure the Sens would have had an answer for it and getting down a few goals would have likely demoralized the Senators to the point that the sweep would've come to fruition.

2. Finish your checks
Ottawa has to make Buffalo work for everything they get. The perception of Buffalo as a soft team who can be intimidated has been shown to be incorrect (ask the Flyers), but I do believe if the game reaches a high level of physicality, they will not be able to keep up. It won't be because they pussy out, as I don't think this team has that in them, but rather simply that they're just not built for it.

3. Minimize the odd man rushes/eliminate the backdoor plays
Buffalo has proven themselves to be a team who can capitalize on errors. The Sens played with fire in the first period of game 3 when they allowed Buffalo a handful of 2-on-1s. Luckily for Ottawa, the Sabres were relatively snake bitten in that 20 minute frame and they got out of it only down a goal. The Sens caught a big break. Hoping that happens again is asking to lose. With the defence struggling on transition rushes (you can literally see the deer-in-the-headlights look on Andrej Meszaros' face every time a Sabres skater comes down the wing), the forwards need to man up and backcheck even more than usual. The coverage has to be on point.

4. Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, & Martin Havlat need to score goals
Pretty self explanatory. The goal scorers have to pick up the slack.

5. Hit the net with shots
This one is tied into #4, as Alfie missed two extremely juicy scoring chances. On on a 2-on-1 rush and the other when he came into the slot from the point on the powerplay. Buffalo's a team that does such an excellent job of minimizing golden scoring chances and collapsing around Ryan Miller that missing the net cannot be acceptable. If nothing else, put the shot on goal and hope for a rebound. Stop trying to pick corners, as some of you just don't have the touch you did in mid-season, and need to adjust your game accordingly. It's no coincedence the shots that got through Miller in game 4 were not highlight reel shots, instead blasts from the point that benefited from traffic in front. Missing the net also is connected the "prevent the odd man rush" gameplan, as often times a shot that misses gives the opposition a chance to rush it back the other way.

6. Make life difficult for Ryan Miller
As noted above, Miller's weakness in this series, if he has shown one, is that he has difficultly adjusting to a bunch of bodies in front. He's hardly alone in this, as most goaltenders are not fond of people in their kitchen. The Sens will have to walk the fine line between clean play and goaltender interference in order to be most effective, and perhaps even take a few penalties along the way. Avoid it if you can, but it might happen and that shouldn't deter them from the gameplan.

7. Get the powerplay rolling
Ottawa's powerplay was so friggin terrific in the first round that to think it would crumble so drastically in round two would have seemed so unlikely, yet that's where we are. Full marks to the superb Sabres penalty killing, who've done a masterful job of closing the lanes and forcing Ottawa to work from the perimeter. The Senators have to get back to simple plays. Stop forcing passes through the crease that aren't there.

If Ottawa follows all or even most of these, they'll put themselves in a good position to win. They win tonight, the seed of doubt has to be planted in the minds of the Sabres. Then we'll truly have a series again.

It can be done.


At 10:15 PM, Blogger Spadinasaur said...

Hey, it's scapegoat time. I nominate Chara and Heatley...

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

They sucked it up for sure. As did Alfie for 4 of the 5 games.

As I just wrote on the Battle of Ontario blog - Alfie's time as an Ottawa Senator should be done. We need a fresh start.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

I think we are about to discover that Chara had a badly broken hand. It's the only thing that makes sense, as he was just dreadful out there.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Nick said...

A few entries down in the comments you can read my rant about how Alfie should most definitely NOT go. Murray is my first choice. He did not leave his mark on this group in any way, and I didn't like how he handled the media this season. But the whole team deserves a lot of blame for this. How many open nets can be missed in one series? It's the same old story with this bunch. Put tons of pressure on, outshoot them 80-15, get all kinds of scoring chances, miss five or six open nets per game, and have one spectacular gaffe that allows the other team to get the goal they need. Same story, every single year. There's clearly something more complex going on in this team's misfortune.

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I explain myself better here:

At 11:28 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I still don't buy any of the "the captain is the heart and soul" stuff. Ottawa was outcoached, mostly outhustled, and was once again completely devoid of any puck luck whatsoever. You could make a cogent argument that missed shots were the reason Ottawa lost this series.

I dunno. No need to blow the team up. Chara will be gone, as will Havlat, and the cap space could come in handy. I like Emery's chances of starting in goal next year. He was excellent again tonight. In my dream scenario, Mucks steps down and names Murray the GM, we hire Crawford as coach, and grab a big centre. I hear Bertuzzi's available! Kidding!


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