OTTAWA, Ontario (AP)(STL.News) — Ottawa coach Guy Boucher has typically kept his team off the ice on off-days during the postseason. Not Monday.
The Ottawa coach opted for a half-hour practice ahead of Game 6 on Tuesday night to help his team “refresh” and “reload” after a 7-0 beating by Pittsburgh, one of the worst losses in team playoff history. Players thought the practice, as well as an encouraging chat beforehand, helped wipe the slate clean as they prepare for an elimination game. The Penguins lead the Eastern Conference final 3-2 and can return to the Stanley Cup Final with a win.
“We can’t be sitting in our mud puddle,” Boucher told The Canadian Press after practice. “We’ve got to get up and go.”
Reloading against an opponent vying for back-to-back Stanley Cups means reverting back to strengths of the club. In Sunday’s blowout loss, Boucher said, he thought his team tried to trade goals with the high-scoring Penguins — an odd choice for a Senators team that thrives on shutting down opponents.
“If we stay away from our strengths there’s no chance,” Boucher said on Monday. “We’re aware of that. We got slapped — hard enough. The reality sets back in.”
Veteran Marc Methot said the team needs to stay tight on defense “because any opportunity where there’s a lapse in judgment or a mistake on the ice there’s a good chance one of those top two lines will capitalize on you.”
The Penguins suddenly have three lines operating at full power once more with Sidney Crosby returning to form (two goals, two assists in his last two games), Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel firing effectively in tandem and the just-united trio of Nick Bonino, Carter Rowney and Bryan Rust spurring three goals in Game 5.
“I think we’ve done a better job of playing on our toes and managing the puck” Crosby said Monday. “Probably our fore-check creates a lot more. Rather than spending time in our end, we’ve created more opportunities, and we’ve played a little bit faster and gotten some momentum.”
As for the 7-0 win, Crosby shrugged it off: “I think it’s about how you play the next game, and I think we expect a pretty desperate group. You don’t get to the Eastern Conference Finals without having that ability to bounce back. We know that tomorrow night’s going to be their best game, and it’s going to be our best as well.”
Ottawa forward Zack Smith said the Senators have been giving the Penguins a lot more room to operate, putting them on the defensive. The Senators managed just 51 shots over two games against Matt Murray, scoring twice.
Central to their woes is a power play that is 0-29 over the last 10 games. Ottawa last scored a power-play goal in Game 1 of a second round series against the New York Rangers.
“If we had an answer we would’ve done it already,” Ottawa winger Mark Stone said.
Boucher had one possible answer. He believed the power play was trying to make plays that weren’t there. Better poise under pressure was required.
Not only haven’t the Sens scored with their power play, but they’ve allowed five in the series on 15 opportunities (67 per cent), including three against in Game 5.
Coming back to topple the Penguins means shutting those efforts down and reclaiming the staunch defensive approach which got the Ottawa far further than anyone could have expected. That includes a better performance from Craig Anderson, who’s posted an .857 save percentage in the last two losses (seven goals on 49 shots) after stopping 80 of 83 shots in the opening three games.
Boucher recalled the message he delivered before the postseason began.
“It’s about the ability to reload as fast as you can,” Boucher said. “And if you can’t do that then you’re in the wrong business because that’s what it’s about.”
Notes: Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson, Derick Brassard and Cody Ceci did not skate Monday after leaving Game 5 early with injuries, but all are expected to play Tuesday night. Mark Borowiecki is also a possibility to draw back in for the first time since the opening round against Boston.