Systems Breakdown: Ottawa Senators

April 10, 2012, by

Of the three potential first round match-ups, the Senators were the last team I wanted to draw in the opening round. I know on paper the Senators probably look less scary than the Capitals, but from a systems/coaching standpoint, I think the Rangers are going to have their hands full and part of that is because of their ability to execute a well balanced hybrid trap system.

Side note:  In case you missed my recent post about the modernization of neutral zone trapping, the term hybrid trap simply means that teams will plug up the neutral zone at certain times in the game (such as when they have the lead or at the end of a period) and forecheck aggressively at other times. What separates one hybrid team from another is how often they use the trap during even strength play.

Senators Forecheck:

Paul Maclean has his Senators playing an aggressive variation of this style of play and it has given the Rangers fits at various points during the season. The Senators are one of those teams that do a terrific job of balancing aggressive forechecking and neutral zone schemes.

Point in case, below is a snapshot of the Senators defending against a Flyers rush. Count how many guys are in contain mode. That is a 1-1-3 trap executed to protect the lead.

In this image below the Senators are down in the third against the Canes. Here they have all three forwards aggressively pursuing the puck down low and a fourth skater (a defensemen) who comes streaking into the slot for the putaway.

Of course even strength forechecking is just one aspect of a hockey system and it is a tactic only utilized when teams do not have the puck. What the Senators do with the puck is what further separates themselves from the pack…and could cause the Rangers some trouble.

Senators Offensive Strategy:

Like most hybrid teams, the Senators are excellent at counter punching. Their ability to create and convert turnovers into goals elevates them from other teams in the Eastern Conference. Whether it’s odd-man rushes or even man rushes, this team is scary good at making you pay for your mistakes.

Obviously Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza are among the league’s elite, but a lot of Ottawa’s transitional offense is generated thanks to the supreme mobility of their defensemen. Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar and Kyle Turris can lead the rush, make outlet passes, and act as an additional forechecker when the situation calls for it. Many trapping teams typically don’t want their defensemen joining the rush, preferring they stay back and act as safety valves. Maclean, like John Tortorella, throws that philosophy out the window.

Senators Defensive Zone Strategy:

Like most of the league, the Senators generally collapse into their own zone to protect the slot and eliminate high quality scoring chances. While they don’t seem to block as many shots as the Rangers (they still put up over a thousand blocks), positionally speaking they’re similar. They also overload the half wall when the puck is along the boards.

With that said, anyone who has watched the Rangers zone offense this season knows that the best way to disrupt their flow is to challenge our blueliners. It will be interesting to see if Maclean adjusts his defensive zone coverage to be more aggressive or if he just leaves it as is.

So that’s Ottawa’s scouting report in a nutshell. Later this week Justin, our resident goalie expert, is going to breakdown Ben Bishop’s goaltending. He already covered Craig Anderson last week (thanks for the reminder Chris F). Dave is also going to talk more specifically about Ottawa’s players and the importance of how/who we match up with them. Stay tuned…

Categories : Analysis, Hockey Tactics


  1. Walt says:

    This Ottawa team is speedy, and skilled, but suspect in goal, and defense. I never take any team lightly, nor will I do so with the Sens, but with their weakness in goal, and the way the Rangers are built, there is a certain level of comfort on my part.

    Let’s face it, if your professionals, you should figure out the trap, no matter what shape it takes. A team can dump, and chase,( I hate that) or they can have a skilled player carry the puck into the attack zone. I’m no coach, but I played one on TV, making fun of myself here, but Torts will get this sorted out, having the guys exploite their weakness, and winning games. This should be a fun series to watch, and win in six games!!!!!

  2. Sioux-per-man says:

    There team speed seemed to be a thorn for the Rangers, and as a team this is one team the Rangers did NOT dominate in the regular season. But this is the playoffs, when the Rangers ratchet up their Defense and Hank is well rested and focused. I just don’t see Ottawa beating the Rangers 4 out of 7 games. But that’s why we play the games. Now could I see them winning 1 or 2 sure, but not 4.

    Now lets hope Philly and Pittsburgh knock each other out. Sure would like to see Philly shut the door on the whiners.

    • Chris F says:

      Oh, how I can’t wait for the Pens and Flyers to kick the living sh*t out of each other! Whoever wins, it will be a Pyrrhic victory at too high a cost.

      Neither team will go beyond the second round.

  3. becky says:

    Great post Suit.. as always love the addition of screen shots.

    I know this isn’t really related but I am kind of sick of people “being nervous” etc about our team.. this is a team that has more points than any other team in the East and came in second in the entire league. It’s also a team of fierce competitors. I’m not sure what would give fans faith but yikes — let’s support our boys instead of “being nervous.” If we’re down 3-0 in this series, then be nervous.. til then, enjoy all the advantages of being the best. Other teams should be nervous about us, not the other way around.

    • Chris F says:

      Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have full confidence? Unfortunately, as Rangers fans, we’re accustomed to the sting of perennial disappointment. Better to be nervously realistic than to ride the wave of naive optimism into the rocks of demoralizing defeat. My heart still tells me that the Rangers win this series, but I have an uneasiness in my gut. Can’t be helped.

    • JS says:

      I’ve had PTSD ever since watching the Ottawa game in October where we were winning 3-0 in the third period and lost in the shootout.

      • becky says:

        Same with me, except with the Caps in last year’s playoffs, up 3 and losing in double OT.. talk about worst game to be at and talking smack to the Caps fans next to you.

    • The Suit says:

      I’m somewhere in the middle on this match up. I don’t think Rangers fans should be nervous or expecting impending doom, but I wouldn’t be thanking the heavens we drew the Senators first.

      They are a quick team and are very well coached. The Rangers obviously have to “play their game,” but they also have to work hard to not beat themselves with turnovers at their blueline.

      Walt, I would expect a lot of dump and chase in this series. Trying to skate through their trap wouldn’t be my recommendation.

      • Walt says:

        The dump and chase may well be a good strategy, we can then pound on their rookie, loud mouth defenseman Karlsson! He said something to the effect that it’s time for Hank to go home, smart ass.

  4. Justin says:

    Great post Suit. Terrific stuff.

  5. Chris F says:

    Justin will be breaking down Craig Anderson, not Ben Bishop, right?