By Allan Muir
The Ottawa Senators couldn’t beat the Pittsburgh Penguins even when they managed to keep Sidney Crosby off the score sheet in Game 1. So you can imagine how well things went when Sid went off for a hat trick in Game 2.
Crosby’s three-goal game, his first in more than two years, paced Pitsburgh to a 4-3 win over the Senators Friday night. The Pens now own a 2-0 lead with the series heading back to Ottawa for Game 3 on Sunday.
This was the Kid at his best. Crosby’s first goal came on a quick burst up the wall that left Erik Karlsson in his tracks before he wristed one by Craig Anderson just 3:16 in. His second came on a vicious snapper that beat a baffled Anderson to the short side 13 minutes later. He completed the trick 1:15 into the second, timing his release to take advantage of a moving screen out front before blasting one over the keeper’s shoulder from the top of the circle.
That was it for Anderson, who was pulled for the first time this season. And really, that was it for the Senators as well. Sure, some sloppy play from goaltender Tomas Vokoun kept them in the game, but Crosby’s star turn was too much for Ottawa to overcome.
“He’s done a lot for us, but it was his best, and it was his best early on,” said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma.
The Sens now face the challenge of having to win four of the next five games. They’d better find a boost in returning home for the next two — and possibly the return of Jason Spezza as well — because there wasn’t much positive to pull out of this one.
Here are some quick observations from Game 2:
• There’s no particular shame in being made to look like a minor leaguer by Crosby. Given a chance, Sid will do that to everybody eventually. But Karlsson’s performance tonight wasn’t just about getting schooled by Sid on his first two goals. He just looked … off. “There’s no doubt he’s fighting it a bit,” Chris Phillips said of his teammate after tonight’s game.
Judging by a noticeable decrease in his speed and maneuverability, it’s clear there’s a physical issue here. Has he aggravated his pre-existing Achilles issue? Is it something new? Hard to say, but it’s clear he quickly lost the trust of coach Paul MacLean. Karlsson played just 15:37 tonight, by far a season low for a player who averaged 27:09 in regular season and 25:14 in the playoffs. And as TSN’s The Stats Guy tweeted, Karlsson averaged just 44 seconds a shift, compared to 64 seconds in the first round. “He wasn’t one of our best players,” MacLean said. “He didn’t play well.”
The Sens proved over the course of the season that they could win without Karlsson. If there is an underlying physical problem here, they might be better off–both for the short and long term–if they try to do it again in Game 3.
• I lost count how many times the Penguins used their speed to get a step on Ottawa’s defense with a quick burst in the early going. It’s an underrated element of their game, but they used it to full advantage to create chances. Still, they might have been more effective when they slowed the game down in the third, using the extra time to make better puck decisions that limited Ottawa’s ability to strike back. Credit Bylsma for reining the horses in and getting them to focus on a more conservative approach with the game on the line.
• Evgeni Malkin had to settle for a single assist tonight — good enough to keep his eight-game point streak alive — but it might have been his best overall game in the postseason. He was active in all three zones, creating several high-end offensive chances and committing to his defensive responsibilities. An easy performance to overlook next to what Crosby did, but this was exactly the sort of game that the Pens will need from Malkin as the stakes rise.
• The consensus coming into the series was that while Vokoun would start, Marc-Andre Fleury would work his way back between the pipes at some point. Tonight may have opened the door to Fleury’s return from exile. The only reason this game was close was because of Vokoun, who turned every Ottawa chance into an advernture. Turris’ goal was a blown angle, completely inexcusable. Greening’s goal was a nice effort from the Ottawa forward, but stoppable. And with the game in hand, he let the Sens back in by coming out too far to challenge a point bid, then got caught flailing around as Pageau banged in the loose puck to make it 4-3.
At this point, seeing Vokoun at the other end gives the Senators hope (Greening suggested as much in a between-periods interview with Hockey Night In Canada when he revealed that Ottawa didn’t consider him to be a No. 1 goalie and the team was trying to take advantage of him). Don’t be surprised to see a change for Game 3.
• I took a lot of grief for suggesting in my series preview that Anderson had the potential to lead the Sens to a sweep over Pittsburgh if he was at the top of his game. Safe to say we’ve haven’t seen anything close to his best so far. If anything, it looks like the Pens are in his head, instead of the other way around.
Anderson was pulled just 1:15 into the second period after blowing his angles on Crosby’s first two goals, and then reacting slowly to the third. The final nail wasn’t entirely his fault — Phillips makes a better door than a window, as they say — but by that point the rattled Sens needed a shake-up as much as anything. In came Robin Lehner, who allowed Morrow’s second-period deflection, then made a number of sensational saves to keep Ottawa in the game, none better than his stop on Jarome Iginla’s partial breakaway bid. He took the hard-luck loss, but this was one of those milestones along the way to eventually assuming the No. 1 job. He acquitted himself well.
• So, who does Ottawa start in Game 3? The goalie who was in the MVP mix in the regular season and who dominated the Montreal series, or the one who looked more than capable in relief tonight? Unless there’s something physically wrong with Anderson, he has to be the guy. He’s earned that right.
• If anyone happens to see Milan Michalek, tell him he’s missing a heck of a series.