Senators stress ‘pack mentality’ defense is key to slowing down Penguins

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Not only did the Ottawa Senators win Saturday, taking a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final, but they managed to hold both Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel off the score board.

Evgeni Malkin did manage to score late in the third period on a beautiful deflection in front of Craig Anderson, sending the game into overtime.

There was some luck involved for the Senators.

Armed with that scary wrist shot, Kessel rang a puck off the crossbar, and Anderson, the Senators goalie, made critical saves throughout the game.

The Senators did manage to keep Crosby to just two shots on goal — and two attempts — in just over 23 minutes of ice time. His most dangerous opportunity came in overtime, as Crosby sped up the ice and nearly split the Ottawa defense before losing control of the puck at the last second.

Senators coach Guy Boucher said Sunday that his team’s game plan in this series isn’t focused solely on Crosby. His reasoning? The Penguins simply have too many good forwards in their lineup, and planning around just one player would allow others an opportunity to take advantage.

The Penguins have the luxury of playing Crosby on their top line, and then having Malkin and Kessel on another line — presumably the second — in their lineup. In the words of Mike Sullivan from last year: “Pick your poison.”

“To be honest with you, we didn’t talk about Crosby once. We’ve always wanted our team to look at our defense — our defensive group playing not as a one-on-one but more as a pack mentality,” Boucher told reporters.

“It doesn’t matter who we play against or how good they are, we’re aware of their strengths. But if we pay special attention to Crosby, then Malkin’s going to give it to us. If we pay special attention to him, then Kessel’s going to give it to us. They’ve got too many tools and players for us to start focusing on particular guys or start worrying about them every time they’re on the ice. They’re always on the ice.”

On Sunday, Sullivan said that during the team’s film session, the Penguins’ coaching staff showed players instances where they had opportunities to shoot the puck but opted not to. That said, he later implored his team not to force something that may not be there. On that note, he said the focus should then shift to tiring out the Senators in their own end.

“They’re good in the neutral zone. I still feel like we had our chances. We hit a cross bar, had some chances around the net. It’s going to be tight. You’re going to get a handful of chances, and you’ve got to find ways to put them in,” said Crosby.

“But they’re a good defense team. They play well as a unit. We’ve got to make sure we find ways to create down low.”

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