The Ottawa Senators came out flying in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They took a blistering 4-0 lead in the first period, asserting dominance in a game on home ice. The Pittsburgh Penguins could not hide their shock at the turn of events and came up with no decent response. It was a far cry from the first two games. The Senators kept the Penguins offense to a minimum all the while they remained conservative. Although they did not alter their style, they used the energy and build of the arena to take advantage of their chances.
Many fans and observers criticize the Senators for having a boring, defensive system of play. If you follow hockey on social media, you see that remark often. For those who watch the sport for purely entertainment purposes, then their style of play does not suit them. It isn’t a wild, high-flying offense that leads to many mistakes like some other teams, but it’s also more than the 1-3-1.
Needs a Closer Look
It is as if the Senators’ entertainment level is indicative of the amount of entertainment that you can find it the city itself. Ottawa has the nickname “the city that fun forgot” and that’s easy to say for those who live there. Especially as it sits between Toronto and Montreal, Ottawa’s government working lifestyle and environment is understandably sub-par. It’s similar with hockey, the Senators don’t match up to the Toronto Maple Leafs on offense or the Montreal Canadiens in goaltending. But like the city itself, it does take a closer eye to appreciate what the system has going for itself. It uses the depth that the Senators have to play gritty and cause damage in the neutral zone.
When they come out with a massive amount of energy, they make opposing teams nervous. Teams know that the Senators have forwards with scoring prowess. With Erik Karlsson supporting them, the Senators forward group is one of the few in the league that capitalizes on the transition as well as they can. They have plenty of speed and they turn it on when they gain possession of the puck and force the opposition to hustle back.
One aspect of the Senators’ game that does not receive enough credit is their pinching defencemen. As an opposing forward carries the puck up ice, an Ottawa defenceman will jump up and go for a hit or a poke check. That forward will try to move around the defenceman or flick the puck into the Senators’ defensive zone. The quick distraction allows a Senators forward to complete his backcheck and scoop up the puck. This results in frequent exchanges in possession and allows the Senators to quickly turn around to the other end of the ice.
Going back to Karlsson, the head coach stated that he does not adjust to his system. Instead, the system adjusts around Karlsson. First, the captain made the commitment to excel in his own end, but that was not because he was trying to conform. Instead, it was his dedication and desire to win that led him to tweak his game.
When looking at him, he plays nearly half of every game, along with their many scoring forwards, how can the Senators not entertain? Karlsson is not the only defenceman who contributed to excitement in the playoffs. The sometimes enigmatic Dion Phaneuf has delivered some of his signature crushing hits. Marc Methot scored two goals not from the point, but from in close. That’s unexpected from a defensive defenceman playing in a perceived defensive system.
For all the fun the system on the Penguins has the perception of being, the Senators have mostly stopped them from executing their offense freely. Seeing players such as Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin show their frustrations drew headlines. Having players express themselves so openly is a welcome aspect of the game. Add that as a part of the Senators’ game among the other factors, and you can find more fun in watching them play.