Gene J.Puskar/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Penguins may be ailing, but the defending Stanley Cup champions are still looking strong against a surprising Ottawa Senators team in the 2017 NHL playoffs.
Both teams have owned play for stretches, thus resulting in a tied series through two games. Yet Wednesday’s Game 3 could prove to be a pivotal turning point for either team to grasp control on the Eastern Conference finals.
Let us take a look at the schedule for this matchup, as well as a breakdown of Game 3. Odds are courtesy of OddsShark.com.
|2017 NHL Playoffs: Wednesday Schedule, Game 3 Odds|
|Pittsburgh Penguins at Ottawa Senators||8 p.m.||NBCSN||NBC Sports Live||81/100||28/25|
Game 3 Preview
The Senators entered this postseason as an afterthought, but clutch goaltending and a disciplined style of play allowed them to move past a superior team personnel-wise in the New York Rangers. Now, the team has a chance to repeat this feat against Pittsburgh.
Ottawa is clogging the neutral zone and Pittsburgh’s offensive zone, forcing the Penguins to either slow down or circle the perimeter of the ice before trying to make a play through traffic in the middle. This creates turnovers, which fuels the quick transition game the Senators are relying on for scoring chances.
Craig Anderson is allowing Ottawa to keep up that style throughout games. He has stopped 55 of 57 shots faced in this series, posting a .920 save percentage for the entire postseason. Thus, the Senators do not need stretch themselves out and take excessive risks since Anderson is keeping the game close, which Sportsnet noted is a friendly situation for the team:
Sportsnet Stats @SNstats
#Sens have now had 11 of their 14 playoff games in 2017 decided by one goal. They are 8-3 in those games.
5/16/2017, 5:40:07 PM
Pittsburgh struggled with this approach in Game 1, as Ottawa nearly held on to a 1-0 lead before Bobby Ryan scored off of the rush to win the game in overtime. The next contest followed the same script defensively for the Senators, but they failed to generate much offense. The team went nearly 19 minutes over the second and third periods without a shot on goal, finishing with just 23 shots overall to Pittsburgh’s 28. In Game 1, Ottawa owned a 35-28 shot advantage.
Two factors were evident in Pittsburgh’s improvement from each game, with the constant over that span being Marc-Andre Fleury’s excellence in net.
The first is that the Penguins simply have more offensive game-breakers than the Senators. No matter how effective Ottawa is at limiting Pittsburgh offensively, the Penguins’ best players are going to make some sort of a difference. Even when Sidney Crosby has just four shots and no points in the first two games, players like Phil Kessel, 14 points in 14 games this postseason, and Evgeni Malkin, 20 points, can pick up the slack.
When Ottawa makes a mistake or experiences a bad bounce, Pittsburgh is much more likely to take advantage than if the scenario were flipped. This manifested itself on Game 2’s lone goal, courtesy of the NHL:
Good ol’ @PKessel81 scored a late game-winner to even things up in the Eastern Conference Final.
The man just loves the game. https://t.co/uPCKmSZrXb
5/16/2017, 11:05:04 AM
The other element behind the Penguins’ improvement was smarter decision-making and poise with the puck.
Ottawa clearly frustrated Pittsburgh in Game 1, as it took away space the Penguins are used to having due to their speed. This caused Pittsburgh into forcing passes and trying complex plays, and it netted 17 giveaways as a result.
In Game 2, Pittsburgh emphasized simple passes and puck possession, which saw Ottawa generate little offense due to a lack of forced turnovers. The Penguins finished Game 2 with eight giveaways.
The Penguins are a smart, experienced team that should only improve its success against Ottawa as the series rolls on. The Senators’ game plan, along with Anderson, is their greatest asset right now, and Pittsburgh is gradually breaking that down.
In such a crucial contest, Pittsburgh should be favored to come out and play well. Look for the Penguins to build upon their Game 2 success and steal Wednesday’s game on the road.
Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.