Sens' number came up

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

The question is asked over and over.

By radio talk show hosts.

By friendly bartenders.

By friends, colleagues, co-workers.

"What's the difference between this Senators team and other years?"

The answer lies in what went wrong for the Senators in their Game 4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres and what must be addressed going into Game 5 tomorrow afternoon.

Senators coach Bryan Murray laid it out.

"Stats don't mean an awful lot, but some nights they do," he said. "Usually coaches that lose the game use them more than guys who win the game. I think it was a real compliment to the team in the 1-0 win (in Game 3, which gave the Senators a 3-0 series lead) that nobody had long shifts, we had no turnovers, a lot of blocked shots and we gave up four scoring chances.

"We gave that up in the first five minutes of the game (Wednesday) night."

For sure, the Senators caught a bad break when defenceman Andrej Meszaros turned the puck over off a skate and Buffalo's Derek Roy made a heck of a play to score nine seconds into Game 4.

But to simply say the Senators were unlucky in the 3-2 loss is to say they were lucky to win the first three games.

There is something to be said for bounces, but that ignores the fact that if a team does more good, smart things than their opponent, they will win a series.

They might lose a game here or there, but over the long run, they will prevail.

First, the turnover issue. As I mentioned after Game 3, the Senators had just 20 turnovers through the first three games of the series (an astoundingly low three in Game 3) to the Sabres' 43.

In Game 4, Ottawa had 15.

"Twelve at the offensive blue line," said Murray. "It tells me people are trying to do a lot by themselves."

A third of them were committed by the big line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, which was held without a goal for the first time in these playoffs.

Part of it is they likely felt like they had to do something to help their team out of an early 3-0 hole, but the opposite usually winds up to be the case.

The Sabres lined up four guys on the blue line and when the Senators refused to shoot and chase, they often wound up turning it over.

Heatley understands that and said the answer is "just playing simpler. There were times last night, I thought at times we tried to do a little bit too much. We've got to go back to putting pucks in and getting a good forecheck going."

Taking long shifts might seem like a good idea at the time, but it is also self-defeating. Coaches like players in today's NHL to keep their shifts to about 45 seconds. That keeps the tempo high and players fresh.

"We had four guys with over one-minute shifts and three additional guys with over 55-second shifts,'' Murray said. ''That's seven players staying on the ice a long time for no reason other than desperately wanting to win the hockey game.

''That catches up to you over the course of a hockey game."

LEG WEARY

The players averaging a minute or more a shift were Spezza (1:07), Heatley (1:00), Joe Corvo (1:00) and Anton Volchenkov (1:00).

The guys over 55 seconds were Alfredsson (58) and Chris Phillips (57 seconds). Wade Redden was at 54.

Players get tired near the end of those long shifts and when you get tired a couple of things can happen, neither of them good. Players make mental mistakes or are simply too leg weary to recover from a mistake or outstanding play by an opponent.

The Senators owned a 3-0 lead over the Sabres going into Game 4 and have been the best team in the playoffs because they were disciplined, mindful of their puck management and shift length.

Taking care of those things shift after shift can help overcome a bad break or bounce here or there. The Senators had a lapse in Game 4, nothing more than that.

"We're still in a pretty good position," said Spezza. "Just from being around the room, I don't sense any frustration or desperation or worry right now. It probably helped us refocus a little bit.

"It might turn out to be a good thing to have us lose a game that maybe everybody assumed we were going to win. It kind of teaches us the lesson that nothing is going to come free in these playoffs."


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