Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Senators 2 Ducks 3

Senators Goals:
Fisher (4) from Meszaros (5) and Comrie (4)
Redden (3) from Alfredsson (8) and Spezza (14)

2 for 7 on the PP
4 for 4 on the PK

Emery made 29 saves on 32 shots.

Team 1200 3 Stars:
1. Rob Neidermayer
2. Getzlaf
3. Emery
Hardest working: Mike Fisher

Anaheim Media 3 Stars:
1. Getzlaf
2. Rob Neidermayer
3. Moen

1. Moen
2. Getzlaf
3. Giguere

My 3 Stars:
1. Getzlaf
2. Rob Neidermayer
3. Emery

Though the result was disappointed, it could hardly be said that the outcome nor the performance which lead to it was much of a surprise. The nine day layoff between games for the Ottawa Senators left far too much time to discuss the potential impact of said layoff; far too much time to mull over the potential stifling effect of the Pahlsson line, the stamina, intensity and versatility of Pronger and Neidermayer, or the size, creativity and aggressiveness of the so-called Kid line. There is no excuse, of course. For the first time in a number of years, the Stanley Cup final truly matches the best two teams in each conference against each other; nobody gets to this point without understanding how much it takes too win, and how much the littlest mistake can cost. The Senators knew full well that the layoff would likely amount to rust in the first game, not to mention contributing factors such as the time zone difference and unusual start time. They also know full well it would be no excuse. Accordingly, they came more lively than a team in their position perhaps should. Capitalising on the Ducks' lack of discipline early, the Senators converted an oddly deflected Fisher shot into the first goal of the Stanley Cup Finals. The goal was a result of some strong board work by Schaefer and Comrie, the latter who passed the puck to Meszaros, who instantly dished it off for a Fisher one-timer. The puck was bobbled and somehow found its way into the net off the far post, though Comrie was available had the puck not directed itself past the goal line. The goal was just the second of these playoffs for the second power-play unit, but demonstrated that the secondary scoring is more than willing and able to contribute this go-around. Though the Senators controlled the play slightly deeper into the period, the Ducks then affirmably took the reigns, starting with an Andy McDonald seeing-eye marker midway through the period to tie the game. Anaheim welcomed the Senators to the Finals with a shift by the fourth line about 12 minutes into the game, which was as commandingly dominant a shift as one can imagine. Though the Senators were scrambling, they managed to escape with the tie intact at the end of the first, thanks to some strong play by Emery, and sloppiness on the Ducks part. There were easily three or four chances where the Ducks, whether due to rustiness or whatever else, could not capitalise on glorious opportunities that would have surely buried the Senators before they even had a chance to respond. But with the tie in place, the Senators regrouped in the second and emerged a much more composed hockey club. A Wade Redden goal, scored once again on the power play, allowed the Senators to retake the lead. The Senators were furiously peppering everything possible at Giguere; immediately preceding the Redden goal, there were four shots, including a post-dinger from Corvo. Redden's own shot hit the post too, only to bounce favourably into the net. While the Redden goal may have given the Senators a step up in attempting to close out the game, Ottawa failed to capitalise on an extended 5-on-3 power play (about 90 seconds long), and failed to convert their strong play into any sizable lead. Understandably, the Ducks reasserted themselves in the third period, and the Senators found themselves without legs. A regrettable goal of a strong individual effort by sophomore star in the making Ryan Getzlaf forced the tie, and the Senators held on by the string of their teeth until Moen shut the book on game 1 with a goal that came as a result of yet another strong forecheck that found the Senators on their heels. By all accounts, Anaheim deserved to win the game, and ended up with a result that reflected their strong play. But by the same token, the vastly outplayed Senators ended up just one goal (or perhaps 2:51 minutes) from stealing a victory. Like many others observing Anaheim in their Western Conference Final series against the Detroit Red Wings, I felt that it said very good things about the Duck club that they could win games even when being outplayed; while it is difficult to apply the same observation to the Senators when they didn't win, the strength of this club is still apparent.

Though perhaps all too brief a list, the good:

Mike Fisher, Mike Comrie, Peter Schaefer. As Mike Fisher is best known for his consistent efforts, perhaps its not any surprise that he finds himself in the "good" column tonight, as he so often does. The other two, based on their relatively poor performances in the Buffalo series - perhaps they deserve the attention even more. It is no surprise to anyone to mention that Comrie has been fighting through a shoulder injury since the New Jersey series, but it appears if the layoff between series has done anyone good, its this guy. He was without a doubt our strongest player in the offensive zone tonight, combining the creativity he has made a reputation for throughout his career with the grit, intensity and strong board effort he came to embody in the Pittsburgh series. The Fisher goal was created by Comrie's board work, and very well could have been Comrie's goal had the puck landed an inch to either side. Peter Schaefer also rebounded with a strong effort - his ferocity on the boards has been missing for a while now and its nice to see some intensity from a player who seems to typifies lackadaisicalness on the ice, warranted or not. He even - gasp - shot the puck. The most surprising statistic for me was his 4 registered hits, the most of anyone on the team. The line was clearly the best Senators line on the ice tonight, and will have to continue to perform at this same level for Ottawa to have any success in this series.

Phillips and Volchenkov. These guys have had, what, one bad period all playoffs? If Alfredsson weren't on this team, these boys would be frontrunners for the Conn Smythe without a doubt. Perhaps the first ever co-winners. Phillips was first Senator to really stand up to the Ducks physical onslaught, driving Getzlaf to the ice on an early rush. Phillips and Volchenkov combined for a full quarter of the Senators registered hits. Volchenkov registered - wait for it - 10 blocked shots, in what was remarkably not some kind of NHL record or even his best of the playoffs so far. While netminder Emery likes to joke that Volchenkov stops more shots than he does, he isn't far off. Get this - Volchenkov registered 56% as many saves as Giguere... in less than half the time on the ice.

Penalty Kill. This goes out to all parties, even the ones who had rough nights - Redden, Meszaros, Alfie, McAmmond among them.

Powerplay. Talked about earlier, both the first and second unit recorded goals tonight, and though the failure to score on a 5-on-3 was a massive disappointment and a turning point in the game, at the end of the day 2-for-7 is a satisfactory result.

And now, on to the bad.

Spezza line (yes, Alfredsson included). What is something that is found in every Senators loss, and none of their wins? Individuality. In every single Senators loss so far these playoffs, there are tangible incidents of the Senators big three trying to do to much, with too little support, and will their way to a victory. And inevitably, it fails. I'm not sure if their individuality emerges because they are feeling outplayed and they introduce it as an attempted counter, or if their attempted individuality caused them to be outplayed. Either way, whenever it shows up, bad things happen. Spezza has been so good these playoffs about making the simple play. The dump rather than carrying the puck in. The shot rather than the drop pass. The chip off the boards rather than the pass through centre ice. He reverted to an old Spezza, an entertaining Spezza no doubt, but a rarely successful one. It plays like clockwork - he dangles past a defender (ooh!), he drops it back to, uh, a Duck (aah!). He attempts to outmuscle a defenseman individually, is denied, and the play results in a chance for the other team. Alfredsson and Heatley were guilty of much of the same. Though both were playing with as much intensity and determination as I've seen, they were clearly rusty, off-time, and altogether out of synch. Alfredsson had an absolutely brutal giveaway at his own blueline which resulted in a prime scoring chance for the opposition team, and he was getting outmuscles in all zones of the rink. Heatley might have had the best game of the three. He impressed me with his work in front of the net on the Redden goal, and had one of the best chances of the game on a sniped shot from in close on the 5-on-3, and he managed to draw a penalty, but there was the same individual determination to take over a game by himself shared by his linemates which brought his game down. Of course, full credit needs to go to the Ducks for shutting them down. They were given no room, were being attacked physically, and the Pizza line failed to adjust. They'll need to be much, much better in game 2 if they want to have any hope.

Redden and Meszaros. I won't harp on this too much because I felt Redden did enough to win us the game, but he was -3 and, very likely, the cause of the first Anaheim goal. Meszaros had a poor showing, but these two have rebounded well so far in the post-season and unlike others jumping off the wagon or yet again calling for Redden's head (and apparently Meszaros too, at least according to some senile old man on the post-game show), I felt they have performed remarkably well for the majority of this post-season and will not throw them to the wolves for an average performance in a 3-2 game 1 loss. Especially not when one of them scored the go-ahead goal.

Christoph Schubert. I'll post what I mentioned elsewhere: Schubert's an odd one, he can play at his best and his worst in one game. He's obviously versatile, but he's also one of our most physical players, great on the forecheck. But he takes more stupid penalties than Heatley, is useless offensively as a forward, and is just lost in his own zone as a forward. I don't know how someone can completely lose their defensive smarts because they're playing a different position. And yet I find him to be our best physical forward next to Fisher. Despite his poor play the last few series, I find it highly unlikely he will ever draw out of the lineup, because the chance, even the slightest chance, that a defenseman might be injured in-game makes him far too valuable to ever scratch. I've attempted to make my case for Oleg Saprykin's permanent position in the lineup, but it is clear that despite being in the coach's doghouse for much of the season, Murray wants Eaves in the lineup, and has set his mind on the Schubert-McAmmond-Eaves. Barring a disastrously inept performance from one of the fourth line wingers or (God forbid) an injury, I can't for a second imagine Saprykin drawing back in, much as his play might merit it.

Too much typing. Here's to a split. But even if they go back to Ottawa down 0-2, I don't think it's the end of the world. When we lose one on home ice, then the trouble begins. But to take it one game at a time - onward to game two!