First off, there is a lot of talk that the Pittsburgh Penguins intentionally sat out Sidney Crosby for the final game of the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers. The goal of this action was to allegedly give them a greater chance at losing so that they would face the Ottawa Senators in the first round. The Senators have won only 18 of their last 41 games. If you wanted to face a slumping team, the Senators certainly fit the bill.
But it is difficult to believe that any athlete, let alone a team of athletes, would give up the opportunity to clinch the Conference (and thus guaranteeing Home-Ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs) just to face a floundering team.
Now on to the analysis.
Pros: The Pittsburgh Penguins have a great core of young players bolstered by veterans and players with Stanley Cup rings. Sidney Crosby is one of the most gifted play-makers to grace the NHL in recent years, and Evgeni Malkin certainly quieted any critics he might have had before the Crosby upper-ankle sprain. If these two players can heat up simultaneously, the team would have one of the best one-two combos in the League.
Pros: Since goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's return from an upper-ankle sprain, he has played phenomenally. He was a .500 goalie before his injury, but since his return he's been on fire, which seldom happens after such a long absence. And if he should get cold feet, Ty Conklin is primed to step in and take over. Conklin was one of the reasons the Penguins stayed in contention during Crosby and Fleury's extended injuries.
Cons: Defense is sometimes suspect with the Penguins, although you wouldn't notice it with the stellar play of their net-minders lately. If their defense can't step it up, Fleury will be facing 30 shots or more per game and will be working hard every night to keep the puck out of the net.
Pros: The Senators have been saying for most of the season that they have been wishing the playoffs would come so that the games can "matter". This was before they nearly missed the playoffs with only a few games left in the regular season. With the playoffs here, the Senators fan base is looking forward to see an empassioned Senators squad looking to repeat their run to the Cup Final.
Pros: In the off season and at the trade deadline, General Manager Bryan Murray acquired players that he dubbed "playoff performers". Defensemen Luke Richardson and Mike Commodore, and Wingers Cory Stillman and Martin Lapointe. They were brought in to help motivate and guide the Senators squad (average age of 28). I know I'm not the only fan looking forward to seeing if these acquisitions can find another gear and help the Senators pick it up.
Cons: With Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson likely out for the 1st round of the playoffs, the Senators are without their 2 biggest energy and heart players. As of mid March, Mike Fisher was 8th in the League in hits and Daniel Alfredsson is currently 10th in the League for goals. Their passion and offense will be greatly missed when the puck drops for Game 1 on Wednesday.
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