Controlling Those Pesky Sens
It has already been made clear that the Ottawa Senators are a fan of pucks being thrown on net. The Senators are the top team in the league in shots on net. They are also in the bottom seven teams in the league in shots allowed per game. This is the case mostly because of one thing, the one and done style of play.
Ottawa is a team that somehow thrives on this style of play. They have a tremendous goaltender that stops a lot of shots. He does not, however, give up a lot of second chances. This comes in part to Ottawa forcing shots from distance.
The amount of shots in this situation becomes superfluous. The shots taken are from distances and even if rebounds are made available, the shots from such distance the Ottawa defense has enough time to close on said rebounds before the forwards have a chance to.
It is because of this the Ottawa Senators pose a big threat to Pittsburgh. While the Penguins are an offensive threat like no other in the league, they pray on teams trying to defend them rather than trade chances with them. If a team is able to get into a footrace with them, trade chances and breakdown their cycle game, the Penguins then are at a disadvantage.
Ottawa’s goaltending is used to this style of play, but the Penguins goaltenders are not. Their shaky goaltending has not been kind to them and their defensive game is predicated on controlling the puck, involving plenty of instances in which the defense pinches. If play escalates to a rapid pace the Penguins pinching defensemen joining the rush get caught, leading to a multitude of odd man breaks for the opposition.
If one needs an example of this look no further than how the Philadelphia Flyers opened up the series against the Penguins in last season’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
So how do the Penguins eliminate the Ottawa Senators choice of play in this series? Well, it is relatively simple to explain and painstakingly difficult to execute, but the answer is the cycle play.
The origin of the Penguins cycle in this series must start with the defense. Ottawa’s use of the quick transition game has to be slowed by the Penguins defense carrying the puck into the neutral zone. Taking their time, the Penguins can enter the Ottawa zone with adequate numbers in order to establish a low cycle game and the key to this is a low cycle game.
The low cycle game carries to the Penguins as opposed to that of the Senators. Using their individual abilities, the Penguins puck carriers can separate themselves. Once in this cycle the Penguins will be able to get multiple shots on net with players constantly in position for rebounds and deflections, something Ottawa does not particularly game plan well against.
The low cycle of the Penguin forwards will allow for the Penguin defense to quickly keep the cycle moving by simply shooting pucks hard into corners. This allows for the defense to continuously man the points while still contributing to the cycle game. It is an offensive attack that prevents Ottawa from getting to their game of odd man rushes up ice and quick scoring chances. While it seems to be a more passive style in theory, this attack should generate the most balanced possible game plan for the Penguins to execute.
Stopping Ottawa while still pressuring offensively is only a win win in theory. The execution of this type of cycle game will take a lot out of the Penguins, but it has consistently proven to be the best way to beat Craig Anderson. Again, this is all well in theory, but the Penguins have to want it this series in order to beat a very hungry club.