Watching the Senators is not pretty. They are a defensive-first team from start to finish. They suffocate the life out of the fans and their opponents with their neutral zone trap.
But you know what? It works. It has helped them be a good team all season long, so they are not going to fix something that’s broke. The Senators will win and lose by playing the trap.
Don’t expect the Senators to change their style even after a 4-1 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. They don’t need to when they are leading the series 2-1, not to mention the Rangers have had a tough go of it against the trap. It would be foolish of them to change what helped them be successful.
The Senators have not given the Rangers any room to skate. Whenever the Rangers try to generate offense, it seems like they are in quicksand when they have the puck. They don’t generate movement, and sometimes the Senators use defense as their offense when it comes to scoring on turnovers.
The Rangers were pegged as the favorites to beat the Senators, but no one should be surprised the Senators are up 2-1 in this series. The Senators have outplayed the Broadway Blueshirts this entire season, especially with Craig Anderson outplaying his counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist.
The Senators have been one of the stingiest teams on defense all season long by giving up 2.60 goals a game, and they do a great job of wearing other players out during the game. It starts with Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. This is a team that does a good job of blocking shots, which is the underrated part of playing playoff hockey.
Think of the Senators as the most ferocious hitting group this side of the yesteryear’s Devils. They hit guys into submission, so the Rangers always have to look out.
Playing defense and wearing others out can’t be easy. It takes sacrifice and commitment for this to work. For years, the Senators have been an offensive team with no success. Hiring Guy Boucher as their coach was a change from the norm. That means being a defensive team first, and the players had to buy in whether they liked it or not.
Eventually, the players will get tired of it. It’s the nature of the beast where they tune out a certain style after they have had some success. Boucher experienced it himself when he was the Lightning coach, so he knows the deal.
Right now, the Senators just want to win the Stanley Cup. They feel they are good enough to win it all, and they should with their defense and their goaltending, so they will buy in what Boucher is selling.
Hockey has changed in recent years. It’s more about speed and skill than playing defense as the Blackhawks, Oilers and Penguins have demonstrated in recent years. Teams have started adapting to it. The Senators have gone the other way. They may be behind the times now, but they have a plan and they are sticking with it. Good for them. It’s refreshing to see a hockey team get back to basics, which is defense wins championships.
The Senators are not going to win friends playing that style. You know what? They don’t care, and they shouldn’t care. Only thing that matters is them winning games, not pleasing anyone.
Watching the awful Devils in recent years, the Devils fans miss watching them play defense and frustrate opponents. It would not be easy to face that team. Now that they are more of an offensive team, it’s been tough to watch the Devils give away games with shoddy defense. The Devils won three Stanley Cups by playing the trap, and they shouldn’t have to apologize for it. Those days are what we could call as the glory days.
What does it say about us that we cry about a team playing the trap when the Rangers can’t seem to dictate their play? Isn’t that the Rangers’ job to forecheck and break the trap? There has to be an appreciation for players sacrificing their offense for the common good, which is playing defense.
The Senators have the edge so far in this series. They have played better defense than the Rangers, and that’s why they are up 2-1 in the series. Until the Rangers can show they can dictate their tempo against the Senators, it’s hard to bet against the Senators.
Until Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Jimmy Vesey, J.T. Miller and Derek Stepan show they can solve the Rubik’s Cube of scoring against the neutral zone trap, the Senators have nothing to worry about.