It takes 82 games to gain home ice advantage—and just one game to lose it.
The Senators had a game plan, and they followed it down to the fine print, beating the defending champs 5-4.
As mentioned in my previous article, there are several reasons why Ottawa is capable of winning this series.
One point I made before Game One was that while neither Marc-Andre Fleury nor Brian Elliott, played particularly well during the regular season, Elliott was the better of the two goalies. That was the case tonight. Elliott finished the game with a less than spectacular .810 save percentage. Fleury was worse, finishing with an .808 save percentage.
Again, both goaltenders struggled; however, Elliott was slightly better. When a game is decided by one goal, as tonight’s was, slightly better can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
Another point I made was that while Sidney Crosby scored a league-high 51 goals during the regular season, none came against Ottawa. In Game One, Crosby failed to score a goal and was held to just two shots on goal. While Crosby did register three assists, only one came at even strength.
Moral of the story: If the Senators stay out of the box, Ottawa has the ability to limit the damage that Crosby is capable of inflicting.
Speaking of staying out of the box, let’s take a look at some areas where Ottawa will need to improve in order to continue their success against the Penguins.
Peter Regin’s hat trick would have been a huge plus had it come in the form of goals and not penalties. Regin took three minor penalties in this game, and the Pens scored on two of the ensuing power plays. It was the rookie's first NHL playoff game, and he played like it. Regin has proved to be effective on Ottawa’s top line, but the only way he can continue to do so is by staying out of the box.
Sticking with the first line, Jason Spezza cannot afford to turn the puck over as often as he did in Game One. Turnovers and Spezza are two words that too commonly used in the same sentence.
To his credit, Spezza’s defensive play has improved exponentially under head coach Cory Clouston’s tutelage. In fact, Clouston had enough confidence in his top centre to put him on the ice in the game's final minute. Spezza is capable of playing a far more responsible game than he did in Game One, and he will need to do so going forward.
The last thing Spezza and the Senators can afford to do is formulate chances for the Penguins. Pittsburgh is more than capable of doing that on its own.
On the back end, Andy Sutton’s play was curious at best. Sutton has gained a reputation since coming to Ottawa as a dependable bruiser who plays an aggressive game. In Game One, Sutton seemed indecisive and failed to throw any of his trademark big hits. Sutton lacked confidence in his game and will need to assert himself as this series progresses.
On the plus side, the Senators' third line was the story in this game, combining for three of Ottawa’s five goals. Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, and Jarkko Ruutu each scored for the Sens, with Ruutu notching the game-winner. In the postseason, it is often the role players that step up and make a difference, and tonight was no exception. Max Talbot did it last season for Pittsburgh; Ottawa’s third line did it tonight.
Overall, the Senators carried the play for much of the game and made the defending champions look rather pedestrian. Ottawa caught some breaks and, to its credit, capitalized when opportunity presented itself. If Ottawa can continue to get contributions from its top three lines, the march of the Penguins may be significantly shorter than most anticipated.
Game Two goes Friday night in Pittsburgh.