Quarter-final review: Why Zug outplayed Geneva
- Published: 15 March 2017 - 8:00 am
For the first time in four years, EV Zug has reached the playoff semi-finals. They did so in a convincing and unexpected fashion, outplaying Genève-Servette HC in three of the four games. This blog outlines some of the factors that led to Zug’s domination.By Yannick Ringger (Photo: PHOTOPRESS/ Salvatore Di Nolfi)
What a difference a year can make: After being swept by Lugano last season’s quarter-finals, Zug avenged the humiliation and did the same to the Grenats this time. Like last year, the first game was very even and could have gone either way before its winner took control of the series and finished it in the fastest possible way. As always when a series is that clearly decided, there are many reasons that have contributed to the outcome. In the following, I will touch on the most obvious and most surprising ones.
The most obvious reason is Zug’s deadly power-play, which was decisive in the first three games. Out of Zug’s first eleven goals in the series, eight (!) have come with the man-advantage. As impressive as that statistic is, it is even more mind-boggling considering that the Bulls’ power-play has been below-average for most of the regular season. A huge reason for the improvement has been the better puck movement, the increased aggressiveness in front of Geneva’s net and David McIntyre’s excellence. Moreover, in game two, the second power play formation – consisting of Senteler, Immonen, Lammer, Zangger and Alatalo on the point – contributed the first two goals. While Geneva also scored three goals on the power-play, all of them came after the games had already been decided.
Geneva’s lack of discipline
Another reason for Zug’s strength on the power-play was Geneva’s lack of discipline. In games two and three, they simply took too many unnecessary penalties in the first half of the game and this cost them dearly. Especially the fourth-liners Douay and Traber only attracted attention for collecting unnecessary roughing penalties and putting their team in difficult situations – contrary to Zug’s fourth line, which actually played hockey, drew and killed penalties. The low point of Geneva’s excessive physicality – if not to say brutality – was Vukovic’s slashing on Senteler at the end of the second game, which led to a three-game suspension. It was key to Zug’s success that they took the bulk of their penalties only after they had already built a comfortable lead. Geneva’s two goals on Grossmann’s five-minute-major in game two showed, however, that in a more even game one single penalty can change the course of a whole game. Due to Geneva’s own lack of discipline and their inefficiency on the power-play, this was never likely to happen in this series, but could very well be the case against a different opponent.
More balanced line-up
While Zug scored almost half of their goals (eight out of 18) on the power-play, they were also clearly the better side at even strength and outscored the eagles 9:3 (Suri scored a shorthander). A huge reason for this lies in Zug’s more balanced and deeper line-up. Zug’s defense was more mobile and drove possession more smoothly than their counterparts. They could rely on three above-average pairs, while Geneva’s Bezina and Mercier were exposed by their opponents’ speed and Fransson couldn’t influence the game as expected. Contrary to Diaz, who after a difficult first game showed why he is one of the elite Swiss defenders.
Offensively, only Geneva’s first-line (Gerbe-Almond-Spaling) looked dangerous. The second and third lines were largely invisible, whereas the fourth line was disastrously outplayed. Zug’s line-up, on the other hand, seemed more balanced. Every line looked dangerous and could draw penalties. Due to the strong power-play and the dominance of Zangger-McIntyre-Lammer, the Bulls could even deal with the absence of Holden in games three and four and the lack of goals from top-scorer Martschini.
The more balanced, deeper and stronger line-up coupled with a consequent and disciplined realization of the team’s system led to Zug’s dominance in all three zones of the game.
While Zug played a better team game, one still has to highlight a few individual performances. I have already mentioned Diaz’ impact. Tobias Stephan made – like Mayer – some key saves in the first game to hold his team in the game and was very solid throughout the series. While this series was decided in other areas than the goaltending position, Stephan’s play was encouraging and showed that he might be on top of his game this postseason. The outstanding player in this series was David McIntyre, though. His six goals lead all skaters in the playoffs so far, his plus-minus of +4 is tied for third and he leads all of Zug’s forwards in ice time. His importance particularly showed in Zug’s third game, when he stepped up in Holden’s absence and led his team to victory by scoring a hat trick. He did that while playing double shifts and logging nearly 23 minutes of ice time – seven of them shorthanded. But then again, he also played his part in the other three games with his defensive responsibility, strength with and without the puck, prowess in the faceoff-circle, playmaking and scoring ability and – perhaps most importantly – his leadership skills. However, as brilliant as he was playing, he certainly benefitted from a strong supporting cast, which played to its strengths, whereas Geneva had too many underwhelming players.
While Genève-Servette HC has lots of questions to ponder and a very long summer in front of them, Zug has finally broken its playoff curse and can confidently head to the semi-finals, where they will try to break another curse as they have not advanced to the finals since their championship win in 1998. This will certainly be harder to overcome as their next opponent should be more disciplined, balanced and efficient than Geneva was in this series.