No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Ottawa Senators
Storyline: The defending champs are back again in hopes of laying claim to their crown, but a surprising upstart from the Northeast may siege the future out from under the Penguins.
Offense: Talking about the Penguins offensive prowess is all too easy these days, as Pittsburgh can still boast some of the brightest and best forwards in the league. Sidney Crosby’s first 50-goal season is just the beginning of the often times scary offense the Pens put up on the board this season.
Pittsburgh has threats known for their aggression (Evgeni Malkin), speed (Jordan Staal), and experience (Bill Guerin) as well as a slew of talents looking to keep their spot in the successful system. If Alex Ponikarovsky could just stay off the suspension list and in the game, the Pens would be even more intimidating.
The Ottawa Senators, meanwhile, have found ways to score goals in key situations despite the team not always having the best of luck with its acquisitions. A strong year from aging Daniel Alfredsson will likely help Sens fans overlook the less-than-exemplary numbers from Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, not to mention the fact that Jonathan Cheechoo, a former 50-goal scorer himself, spent time toiling away in the minors after he was put on waivers.
While Ottawa’s scoring wasn’t exactly deep or extravagant like Pittsburgh’s, it is sure to take a major blow with the loss of Alex Kovalev for the remainder of the season (and perhaps longer, depending on severity of his torn ACL). Advantage: Pittsburgh.
Defense: Though neither of these teams is exactly perfect on the defensive side of the puck, one could contend that they both hold the fort just long enough to get the job done. Sergei Gonchar’s ageless charms may allow him to score goals, but the strength of the Pittsburgh defense lays solely on the shoulders of American-born Brooks Orpik.
Orpik size and demeanor earns him comparisons to Hal Gill yet he has better hands and speed than his lumbering former teammate. The Pens may not operate with someone as desperate to win as Rob Scuderi like they did last season, but who knows if Alex Goligoski or Kris Letang is willing to step into that role this year and benefit (with a contract extension, I’m sure).
Ottawa defensively is somewhat of an enigma, as they are neither impressive nor consistent. Allowing more goals than they prevented, the Sens need Filip Kuba and longtime player Chris Phillips to step up their efforts in a hurry and in the pinch.
Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are the only Ottawa defenders to earn plus ratings this season for a team that gave up the most goals of any in the playoffs. In all fairness, that total was still only one more than what the Penguins surrendered. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Goaltending: Another season for Marc-Andre Fleury to earn his pay as a number one draft pick seemed to be tainted when Fleury sustained minor injuries yet again in his career.
Though Fleury has still outperformed most goalies his age (and already has a Cup ring to prove it), his consistency can be drawn into question at anytime. He posted a 2.65 goals against average, which is better than his already inflated 2.82 career average, yet his .905 save percentage was the worst in five years.
Despite these issues, the Senators’ goalie situation is one based more on luck than skill. Pascal Leclaire was brought in with a big contract on the books to help the team, yet his overall contributions were more self-destructive than ever as Brian Elliot has taken over the reigns and led by example from December on.
Most puzzling is that third goalie Mike Brodeur might not even get a second look if Elliot or Leclaire were to crumble. In three career outings (about as many as Washington’s Semyon Varlamov had last year at this time), Brodeur, of no relation to Marty, is 3-0 with a 1.00 GAA and .966 Save Percentage. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Key Players: Ottawa could key in on any number of players for the Penguins, but just for fun we’ll stick with Bill Guerin, who had 3 goals and 3 assists for the Pens over four regular season games this year. Ottawa’s Chris Kelly was the surprising achiever against Pittsburgh, netting 3 goals and 1 assist in 4 outings.
History: This will be the third meeting between the Pens and Sens in the postseason, with each of the previous coming in the first round just a few years ago. Each team has won a series, splitting the pot 1-1. The season series is also tied at 2-2.
Outcome: Facing facts in the most literal way possible, Pittsburgh will show that they were built to win while the Senators will show that they were frankly…not. Pens in 5.