It is not just the sight of the Rideau Canal and Parliament Hill that makes the Ottawa Senators glad to be home for games three and four of the Stanley Cup Finals.
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With the home team getting the last change, the Senators will finally be able to get the line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley away from Anaheim's checking line of Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, and Travis Moen.
Through the first two games, the Pahlsson line has not only shut down the Ottawa trio, but they have dominated. In the last game, Pahlsson's 10-2 record on faceoffs meant more often than not, Ottawa's big guns were forced to start the shift in their own end.
Ottawa coach Bryan Murray went as far as to drop Alfredsson to a line with Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette for parts of the game, and they formed the Sens' most effective line much of the night.
Given those facts, it is curious what happened on Pahlsson's winning goal. On the previous shift, Anaheim's top line was matched up with Ottawa's fourth line. As the shift wound to a close, Andy McDonald was the last Anaheim first liner to leave the ice, as Moen and Niedermayer had been able to get on for their next shift.
Moen and Niedermayer were on the ice for roughly ten seconds before the gassed Ottawa fourth line headed to the bench. Murray sent out the Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley line against what was clearly going to be the Anaheim checking line.
McDonald was able to get off the ice at the same time as Pahlsson joined his usual linemates. Twenty seconds later, Pahlsson had scored the game's lone goal.
With a television timeout set for the next whistle, Murray's decision to send out the top line against the checking line made some sense, yet one thing has become evident through the first two games. This goes way beyond a normal checking line situation -- the Ducks' checking line has been so dominant, they have exposed a defensive weakness on the Sens' top unit.
There is no question Spezza has improved his defensive play over the past two seasons, but at times, it looks like Spezza of two seasons ago. And on the winning goal, Alfredsson gave a weak stick check towards Pahlsson, a play somewhat reminiscient of Jason Pominville's series-clinching overtime goal last spring when he danced around Alfredsson.
Simply put, Ottawa's top line must either step up their two-way play if they are to create any scoring chances. Right now, they are spending most of their time chasing Pahlsson, Nidermayer, and Moen in their own end.
That is likely to change the next two games. Murray will have the advantage of the last change, and he must do whatever it takes to keep the trio away from Anaheim's stellar checking line. Even if the big guns step up their play in their own end, they are wasting energy that needs to be spent creating chances.
Who does Murray want the trio to face? That is a tough question. Anaheim's line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Dustin Penner can be physically punishing, so that is not an ideal matchup. The first line of Andy McDonald, Teemu Selanne, and Drew Miller would seem like the favorable opponents, but if they face the big guns on a regular basis, Randy Carlyle will put solid defensive forward Tood Marchant on the top unit.
One thing is clear -- either Alfredsson, Spezza, and Heatley find a way to spend more time in Anaheim's end, or the Senators could be in trouble.
OFFICIATING WATCH: In game three, Dan O'Halloran and Paul Devorski will be the men with the orange armbands. The duo called game one somewhat tighter than Bill McCreary and Brad Watson called game two, something that could favor Ottawa.
The Senators have commented the standards seem to be less stringent during the regular season, but that is a trend that seemed to start sometime after Thanksgiving. Given the current standards, look for Ottawa to create more subtle obstruction in game three.
McCreary and Watson called a pretty consistent game in game two, letting the players determine the outcome after the first period. Although it may not be the so-called new NHL concept, it was a traditionally called playoff game. After a combined six power plays in the first period, there were just two power plays the rest of the game and no penalties called after the closing seconds of the second period.
The boarding calls on Mike Comrie and Anton Volchenkov in the first period were questionable. Comrie's hit on Francois Beauchemin was from a 45-degree angle, while Corey Perry turned his back to Volchenkov a split second before the hit.
Shawn Thornton of Anaheim was also upset about his charging call in the second period, as he appeared to leave the ice with one skate but not the other in the process. Playing just 2:22, Thornton was one of just two Ducks not to register a hit. Had the penalty not been called, Thornton gets credit for a hit -- just a little more reason to be frustrated.
In the end, however, the officials let the players determine the outcome, and that is all you can ask in the Stanley Cup Finals.
JUGGLING THE LINES: With a 2-0 lead in the series, look for Anaheim to maintain their lines for the most part.
The top unit of McDonald and Selanne has played with Miller or Marchant at various times, and expect that to continue.
From Ottawa's standpoint, they will have to shake things up if they do not have a strong first period. Many have suggested Fisher join the top unit as he provides a healthy dose of grit and energy. Chris Neil saw some time with Spezza and Heatley last game and was impressive, particularly in the first period.
Look for Patrick Eaves to potentially replace Oleg Saprykin on the fourth line. Eaves played some with Spezza and Heatley in the preseason and the unit looked good, so that would also give Ottawa another top line option.
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