‘We’re a good team’
Senators believing in themselves ahead of Game 2 in East final against Penguins
A day after they slowed, stalled and ultimately outlasted the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on the road in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, the Ottawa Senators found much of the narrative surrounding them carried a hey-how’d-youdo-that tone.
While the Senators seemed happy to analyse their 2-1 overtime win Saturday, they were equally intent on looking ahead to Game 2, set for tonight at PPG Paints Arena, and expressing a belief in themselves moving further into the series.
“We know as a group we have good hockey players. We’re a good team,” Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 27 saves, said Sunday.
“You have to respect your opponent. We know they’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of star power. They’ve got some great players. Watching them play against Washington (in Round 2), they played great as a team. So it’s just a matter, for us, staying in the moment, and, win or lose, getting ready for the next one.”
Ottawa, a team left out of the playoffs last season, ran off Boston and the New York Rangers before taking the series lead against Pittsburgh.
That has either spawned, or been the result of, a newfound cohesion among the Senators.
“It’s a totally different feel,” veteran centre Zack Smith said. “This is my seventh year. It’s not even so much a quiet confidence, but just trust within the group. We have a great group of guys.
“Honestly, it’s been amazing throughout the whole playoffs. When you have that confidence behind you, it’s a lot easier to play.”
Beating the Penguins is easier when their stars are held in check.
Ottawa killed all five Pittsburgh power plays, including 45 seconds of 5-on-3 play, and didn’t allow a plethora of dangerous chances around the net.
Although playoff points leader Evgeni Malkin scored, fellow centre and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Sidney Crosby was held to two shots — and no other shot attempts — and post-season goals leader Jake Guetzel, one of Crosby’s linemates, had one shot. Sniper Phil Kessel had three shots but also three giveaways and was mostly quiet.
“To be honest with you, we didn’t talk about Crosby once,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “We’ve approached games the same way for a while — we need everybody to be able to play against anybody. We’ve always wanted our team to look at our defensive group playing not as a one-on-one but more as a pack mentality.
“So it doesn’t matter who we play against or how good they are. We’re aware of their strengths, but if we pay special attention to Crosby, then Malkin’s going to give it to us. If we pay special attention to him, then Kessel’s going to give it to us. They’ve got too many tools and players for us to start focusing on particular guys or start worrying about them every time they’re on the ice.”
With perhaps a nod to the Game 1 outcome, Ottawa took a day away from the ice Sunday while the Penguins held a fullteam practice.
“Rest is a weapon. It is big this time of year,” said Senators winger Bobby Ryan, who scored the overtime winner Saturday and assisted on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s goal.
“Guys that have played all 82 (games) are into the 90s now. It’s important. There’s nothing systematically that you need to work on. You can address it, but you can make those changes on the fly. So a chance to give your body recovery is huge.”
Pittsburgh opted to work on some details, such as getting through the neutral zone more efficiently. Coach Mike Sullivan also stressed the need to shoot more rather than looking for a perfect setup.
“Part of it, I think, is just a heightened awareness and a mindset to put the puck on the net,” Sullivan said. “One of the things we did (Sunday) morning when we had our film session is we showed them a number of different opportunities where we felt we could have put the puck on the net and we chose not to.”
Some of the Penguins did some of their own self-evaluations. That includes Crosby, the team captain.
“If I could hold on (to the puck) a little bit more down low and create some things there, then hopefully the chances will come,” he said.
That Senators are counting on it, if not looking forward to it.
“We’re expecting Crosby at his best the next game and Malkin and Kessel and those guys, and it’s going to be very, very, very, very difficult,” Boucher said.
Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson (right) kicks at the puck after getting it away from Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on Saturday in Pittsburgh.