Season Series: Tied 2-2
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Most of the time to be the champs, you have to beat the champs and this is something that Ottawa Senators know. The Pittsburgh Penguins also know that the Washington Capitals are the team to beat this season as they have completely dominated the Eastern Conference. With that being said, if it weren’t for piss-poor goaltending throughout the season from Marc Andre-Fleury, the Penguins may have actually clinched their division and been playing a lower ranked team. In years past, the team has been lead by Crosby, but he has relied on his team-mates being more of a playmaker than a scorer. This year, he is the clear point leader on the team (20+ points ahead of Malkin) and has transformed himself into more of a scoring machine than anything (he finished off the season with 51 goals, and 109 points smashing his previous best of goals which was 39 in his rookie season). Also it put him ahead of Ovechkin and Stamos in goals and just behind Hedrik Sedin in points.
The critics can no longer bash Crosby for not putting the puck in the neat like his rival OV but if the Penguins want to repeat as champs, they can’t depend on the play of Sidney Crosby like they have all season. Malkin needs to get his ass in gear, Jordan Stall needs to step up to the plate as well as Gonchar and Guerin but it’s not just about the stars performing. Last year you saw that Max Talbot won the Stanley Cup in Game 7 for Pittsburgh with his two goals in the 2nd period. They’ll need more of that this year from the entire team to repeat. The good news is the Penguins are quite healthy as Chris Kunitz is the only recent player to be missing action (shoulder). Expect Crosby, Malkin and Stall to lead the way, but some other low-profile players will need to step up … and one not so low-profile player who needs to step up in the biggest of ways is Marc Andre-Fleury. It’s time to see if the defending champs still have the drive to win, or if they’re satisfied that they won last year (as too many teams fall victim too).
The Ottawa Senators started off extremely slow playing .500 hockey from September-December until they lost five straight from January 5th – January 12th then finished off the month with nine straight wins, and going 14-2 in the sixteen games prior to the Olympic Break. The break really hurt the Sens though as they returned to the ice in March and went 1-8 in their first nine games (before knocking off five six straight to get back into the playoff race and secure a playoff spot). The main concern for Ottawa is that they have been so inconsistent all season long that you really don’t know what to expec from them and if you pair them up against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they don’t stand that much of a chance in my mind. They have offensive talent coming out the wa-zoo with Alfredsson, Spezza, Fisher, Kovalev and even players like Milan Michalek, Chris Kelly and Filip Kuba contribute quite a bit. But Kovalev tore his ACL and is gonezo for the season and Kuba was injured late in the season and is rumoured to miss most of the playoffs.
From the offensive aspect of the game, the Senators are a great team on paper, but when you move down the ice to the defence, not only are you moving back but also downhill. If you don’t believe me, after 80 regular season games, the Senators were the only squad to have clinched a playoff berth and have more goals scored against them, then they had had on their opponent. You can’t overly blame Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson and the rest of the defence though because as you continue to move back, it just gets worse. The Senators starting goalie is Brian Elliott who has shown signs of greatness this season and is around middle of the pack as far as stats but at times, he’s also shown how mediocre he really is. With back-up Pascal Leclaire on the bench, you aren’t downgrading that much if you throw him in and that speaks volumes. One thing is certain, the Ottawa Senators are extremely weak in their own end and that is something you can’t have if you’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins.
TheCoach’s Pick: PENGUINS in FIVE