Going into last night's game, my heart and I were talking, and Pumpy said "They can do it! The Sens have had 6 full days off to prepare a new PP scheme, settle their PK, and to establish a gameplan for shutting down the Pens multi-headed attack...Go Sens GO!" My brain, however, had a different opinion -- "Pumpy, you are stupid and should shut your dumb ventricles up! There is no logical reason to believe that the Senators have any chance of shutting down the Penguins without their captain (alfie), their christian (the fish), and their Kelly (no additional information necessary)." Turns out my brain is smarter than my heart.
Three things I noticed in this debaucle were:
1) Sidney Crosby is slowly turning American. I don't have a problem with Americans at all; they love baseball and I love baseball so we have something special in common. But I was a little ticked off when watching the National anthems and during Canada's, Crosby was looking about, giving the Sens starters a slight crook eye. When the American anthem came on, however, Crosby had his eyes shut and his head down and was swaying like he was hanging from the flag pole. I concede the American national anthem is a great and powerful song, but he is from Canada and shouldn't be respecting the anthems of other nations more so than his own.
2) Redden has come down with a vicious case of the "Reddens" at a very inopportune time. The disease, which affects decision making deep in your own end, struck first right around the one minute mark of the opening period when Robo-Roberts stomped his way behind the net, forced a turnover, knocked Redden down by coughing on him, then barrelled in front and buried a whiffler behind Gerbs. The "Reddens" struck last when Wade decided he was going to go after Mr. Crosby. Well, when you are in Mr. Crosby's neighbourhood, you can expect his neighbours to come to his aid. Ryan Whitney laid a serious beatdown on behalf of his captain, one so vicious that Redden was hiding inside his jersey for most of it. Too bad he missed most of his beating live, but I'm sure it will be replayed on SportsCentre (in Canda; not likely south of the borrder [the geographical location, not the theme park]) later today.
3) The Sens have been sacrificing skill for grit over the last few years in an attempt to be a more "playoff-ready" team. Well, they need to sacrifice some during-the-play grit for some post-whistle unity and start sticking up for each other. With the exception of a few players, these guys do not back each other up on any sort of consistent basis. Example -- Fleury sticks Lapointe; Lapointe turns around to confront Fleury; every Penguin jumps Lapointe; no Sens get involved. Sure, they mixed it up at the end when Roberts pushed Bass into the boards...but it was 4-0, and still they threw no punches. I knew right then (the Lapointe sequence) that this game was a wash, and if they don't start playing for each other (like Whitney did when he stepped in on behalf of his captain), this series is a wash.
The series is far from over after game one. But for the Sens to extend their playoff lives beyond 180 more minutes, here are three things that will have to change:
1) Power play -- Attrocious! It was Junior B-esque. I really don't like where the point men take their shots from, and I really don't like that Heatley isn't taking the shots instead of them. Smart teams have learned that Spezza wants to get the puck to Heatley, so they remove him from the equation by basically playing him man-to-man, and let Spezz move it to a much less lethal threat. They need to have Stillman be the passer, and have Heatley AND Spezza be the trigger men.
2) The lines -- when you don't have alot to work with, don't spread your talent so thin that they become invisible. The top line cannot have Randy "Ripcord" Robitaille on it. The Sens need to be a three line team until they get some bodies back, and even then it may not be enough. Vermette needs to move to the topline to add the needed speed element; Stillman needs to stepup and make a line of himself, Lapointe, and McAmmond something the Penguins need to worry about (do any of them play centre? Because if they don't, someone needs to work on their draws!); and Neil, Schubert, and Bass need to dump and hit, then repeat. Foligno can work through the lines to give some rest, and Ripcord can fill a space on the 2nd PP unit, but these lines at least give them a chance to be effective. The parings on D are fairly inconsequential, as each pairing as its' own unique weaknesses, but if Volchenkov misses anytime (I thought he was comatose), things get pretty sticky on the back end.
3) The mistakes -- this is obvious to everyone but possibly the players. Poorly timed pinches; no look passes; bad changes; bad choices in the neutral zone. Man, I am getting heartburn from thinking about the mistakes from last night's game (this will require a quick Zantac break). This will be the toughest thing to change, as it is now engrained in their DNA, but miracles have happened before.
3a) Sacrifice -- Last second addition here. It will be a long summer if there is a quick exit here, so what is the harm in throwing caution to the wind and getting your hands dirty? Is it really to much to ask to take a big hit if it springs a two on one? Or if it gets the puck out of your zone? Is it too much to ask the D to not pinch and instead lay down for the good of the team? How about the forwards -- why dump if you are not going to chase like your season depends on it? Why stand in front if you are just going to move when the Penguins decide it is time to go? Does anyone on this team see what Volchy does night in/night out for this team??? Let's go fellas -- my sacrifice is dropping four bills to cheer your butts on, so give me something to cheer for!
My brain doesn't think the series is over, as logically the Penguins still have to win three more games, but after last night's game there is no reason to think it isn't a mere formality. Pumpy disagrees, and feels the Senators are consummate professionals, and their collective pride won't allow them to go down without a fight. So the question is "Do the Sens let their brains run the ship, and go down without any significant effort, knowing the Penguins are better on paper? Or do their hearts lead, and they do whatever it takes to get this series to a final game, in which they move on if victorious? We shall see...