Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Senators 2 Penguins 1

Senators Goals
Spezza (2) from Redden (3) and Corvo (4)
Volchenkov (1) from Comrie (1) and Schaefer (3)

Team 1200 3 Stars
1. Emery
2. Fleury
3. Volchenkov
Hardest working: Phillips

Pittsburgh media 3 stars
1. Volchenkov
2. Emery
3. Staal

Mellon Arena's 3 Stars
1. Volchenkov
2. Staal
3. Emery

CBC's 3 Stars

My 3 stars

1. Emery
2. Comrie
3. Staal
Hardest working: Saprykin (!)

For all the flak Ottawa received losing Game 2 on Saturday and failing to take a 2-0 series lead for the first time in Senators history, it would be nice to see an equal amount of praise for taking a stranglehold of the series with two consecutive wins on Pittsburgh ice. It wasn't the perfect performance by the Senators, which makes the victory all the more impressive. Pittsburgh came out strong, continued strong, and finished strong. They were aggressive, physical, much more disciplined, and Ottawa still clawed out a win. Pittsburgh might have even deserved a victory here with their strong play, but Ottawa got it instead. And notice the final scoreline? The dreaded one goal game? Mark a rare one in the win column for the Senators.

Were this a Penguins blog I'd focus on the strong performances from Staal, Fleury and Roberts. As it is not, I'll keep it short and say these guys are giving it their all, and I'd take any one of them on my team any day. After shaking off the nerves of game 1, Fleury has been equal to or better than Emery on almost every occasion. Staal is playing like a grizzled veteran; this is a guy who was on the brink of demotion in early October. He's dominant at both ends of the ice and I find myself more nervous when Staal is on the ice than any other Pittsburgh player. Roberts is being Roberts, irritating and borderline... everything you expect him to be. Crosby was shut down completely tonight, though he played well, and Malkin has been invisible the entire series.

Now, to focus on some strong play which lead to the Ottawa victory:

Mike Comrie. His creativity lead to the game-winning goal, but he's been buzzing all series and this has come to be expected. He has been a fantastic fit with Fisher and Schaefer, and this has become an energy line that, with Comrie's offensive creativity, can be a much more dependable and consistent scoring line than having Neil as the winger. Now, these guys haven't been filling the net like superstars, but they fill valuable offensive minutes ably.

Ray Emery. I haven't at all been with his play so far in the series, but he did step up tonight. With the help of his teammates, tonight Emery held the Penguins to a single goal, making the score look like a defensive chess-match when in reality the play was anything but. Throughout long stretches, both teams traded chances and the score could have easily and justifiably been 6-5. He didn't make too many super-human saves, but he did his job and avoided getting in the position where he needed to make the impossible save. The Pens failed to mark a single powerplay goal, and all in all Emery played the way he will need to for the Senators to succeed consistently.

Anton Volchenkov. The amount of penalties were disappointing, and unlike in Phillips' case I don't feel as though any were necessary to prevent scoring chances. Still, he performed fantastically while on the ice (including penalty killing while Phillips was in the box), and managed to shutdown the Malkin-Crosby-Recchi line completely by forcing perimeter play. Oh and he scored the game winning goal or something. Yeah, Mr. "1 goal in the Regular Season" is the reason the Senators have a 3-1 series lead. So this guy is the man, more or less.

Chris Phillips. As with Volchenkov, the penalties were frustrating but the hooking penalty he took early in the second to prevent a Crosby break was a perfect demonstration of a "good penalty", if there can be such a thing. He also made a game-saving move late in the third, lifting Staal's stick to prevent a sure goal.

Joe Corvo. Unpack the boxes, and enjoy your stay in Ottawa over the next three years, because you are not going anywhere. The skating, oh the skating. If he takes target practice over the summer, this man will be unstoppable.

Jason Spezza. Nevermind the Montreal goal from last year... this is the Spezza goal to remember. Why? Because he just shot it. Throw it at the net and see what happens. He's learning. It wasn't a pretty play - it was about as far as you can get from a pretty play. But it sure looks nice on the scoreboard. He's still doing the "stupid" drop passes - and no one's complaining, because they're working. He's being responsible and judging what is appropriate and when. For once, Spezza's play is not dictated by his points. He had a brain fart late in the game, failing to clear the puck, but paid the price for his error by blocking the shot that resulted. He's buying in to playoff hockey, and I could not be happier.

Peter Schaefer. I've been tough on him all season long, feeling he looked disinterested and just going through the motions, but he really stepped is game up in late March and hasn't descended since. He had a game-saving crease clear, had some creative moves in the offensive zone and some decent scoring chances, and just generally played with good energy and speed.

Christoph Schubert. Just consistently fantastic. I haven't liked his borderline hits from the past few games, but he cleaned it up tonight. He's versatile, energetic and, man, that 4th line was buzzing tonight. Another very strong game and a big part of our 100% PK.

Special teams. Thank you for waking up PP, and thank you for staying up, PK.

Oleg Saprykin. Oleeeeeeg, Oleg Oleg Oleg. There is no rush to get Eaves back in the lineup. At all. I want this guy to stick around. He's got energy, drive, some great hands, and turned the 4th line into a significant scoring threat.

Neutral things:

Dany Heatley. At least he looked better tonight. He's still slow as a one-legged turtle sloughing through mud, and his windup slapshot still leaves Pittsburgh with enough time to change lines, rehydrate, and have left over for the Ice Girls to clear Fleury's crease, but at least he's trying. I like that he's trying to be the playmaker, but Heatley's a shooter, he's paid to shoot, so shoot. (And score, please). He played well defensively tonight, did well to clear the zone late in the game, and set up some great chances, but I cannot say I'm at all impressed with his play so far. I can buy that he has an injury, which is unfortunate, but it's no excuse. If the Senators are going to go far, Heatley needs to be January Heatley.

Negative things:

Wade Redden. I was happy to see him back on the 1st PP, and he looked good there. Elsewhere - just not right. Meszaros is the better player in this partnership right now. Yeah, it's that bad. He's an assistant captain and he's playing like December Corvo. But with everyone's complaints... this team wins when he's in the lineup. That's all that we need to care about in regard to Redden right now.

Now, I don't have many negative things to point out. The problem with this game was that Pittsburgh played really well. This is not something Ottawa can really prevent, although we can make their good play meaningless. Which we did tonight. I still don't think it was the best we can see from Pittsburgh, but I do think it was their game so far this series. Pittsburgh controlled the play for long stretches in the game and, I'd say, "won" the second period. This game wasn't about Ottawa dominating and decimating their opposition. It was about Ottawa being confronted with a challenging opponent, with a goaltender playing strong, with hard-hitting, driven, playing-on-the-edge players, and Ottawa being able to come out on top. An 8-0 victory gets us nowhere; a 2-1 victory over a Penguins team playing great hockey - that's a win that matters.

Congrats on the 3-1 lead boys, now close out the series on home ice in front of your loving fans!