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Devil in the Defensive Details

Posted By Mika Oehling On Apr 7 2012 @ 5:52 pm In Ottawa Senators | No Comments

The Ottawa Senators and the New Jersey Devils played a spirited last game of the regular season for the crowd at Prudential Centre, who walked away happy as their home team won 4-2. It was a tight game that either team could have taken, but the true difference maker for Ottawa was their defense, and not in the way that they wanted it to be. Defensive errors proved to be serious for the Senators, as communication issues continued to plague their defensemen and allow all important goals for the opposition. Ottawa has given their D-men a ton of credit this season for being good offensively and providing support to the team with goals and assists; the trade off has been effective defense.

The problems with defense cannot be overstated. A rare 5 on 1 scoring chance in the second period where Cowen’s error resulted in him taking down teammate Klinkhammer and leaving the rest of the team flat footed in their own zone is a clear example. Sykora scored after several attempts on Anderson in that period, and Anderson would have had to perform a miracle to stop all 5 Devils in the zone. Indeed, the team has relied heavily on Anderson to bail them out of tough situations and he has delivered; but they’ve relied on him too much and this time around, they hung him out to dry.

Stephen Gionta’s goal in the third was the real momentum killer in this game, made all the more devastating by the fact that team captain Alfredsson put in a stellar effort against Ponikarovsky, while Gonchar let Gionta glide right onto the doorstep for a deflection. Alfredsson didn’t let up on his man and Gonchar should have done the same. The final nail in the coffin was Kovalchuk’s empty netter in the final minute of play. Despite a great effort by Anderson to keep the game within reach for his team and solid performances by Condra, Greening and Gilroy, Ottawa lost its chance to clinch 7th spot for the playoffs.

It was a lively game, something which doesn’t happen often with the highly defensive-minded Devils team. It’s a good sign that both teams played with urgency, no doubt with playoff games in mind. The playoffs are about momentum, and Ottawa’s going to need to find theirs somehow with this disappointing loss. It wasn’t for lack of trying for Ottawa that this game got away, but not only do they have to work on their game, but they no longer have control over fate in the standings. Who they play next will be determined by tonight’s match ups for Washington and Florida. It will be either Boston or New York.

Either way, Ottawa’s best strategy to get its game back is going to be to play a simple game. They will have to remind their defensemen to play defense first and offer offensive support when they can. They will have to work on communication between on the back end, power plays and staying alert. The good news is that their penalty kill on the day was good overall and they showed good puck pursuit throughout all three periods. They’re motivated, they’re aggressive and now they need to focus on their back end. Anderson’s ready for the post-season, but he can’t do it alone.

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