Once again the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to live up to expectations. They finished fourth in the conference for the second consecutive year. How many more finishes like this before Penguins fans become irate and frustrated with their team?
Yes folks that is pure sarcasm and a failed attempt at humor. What is there to say about Pittsburgh's playoff chances that hasn't already been said?
This team is clearly being judged on bigger and better things than division championships and Presidents Trophies. Two straight years they have gone to the finals, last year they won it all. The Penguins could finish eighth and still be Stanley Cup contenders. The regular season is just a tune up for them.
The Penguins have arguably the best player in the NHL in Sidney Crosby. A Stanley Cup, a gold medal and a Rocket Richard Trophy in 10 months. He should shed the "Sid the Kid" nickname and steal the "King" title from LeBron James. King Crosby sounds a whole lot better, and it is definitely earned.
The Ottawa Senators on the other hand are happy to be where they are. They did not qualify for the playoffs last year, which in all seriousness had their fans irate and frustrated.
Then they traded away Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks in return for a nice second line winger (Milan Michalek) and a former Rocket Richard winner (Jonathan Cheechoo). Problem is Michalek has been playing hurt, and Cheechoo continued his under performing ways and was sent to the AHL.
Pascal Leclaire was signed to be the number one goalie, but he lost his job early in the season.
Sounds like a pretty dramatic 12 months. But they still did enough to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Here is a look at how the teams stack up against one another.
Pittsburgh: C Sidney Crosby (51-58-109), C Evgeni Malkin (77 pts in 67 games), D Sergei Gonchar (30 PPP), C Jordan Staal (21 G, excellent two way player), RW Bill Guerin (21 G)
Ottawa: RW Daniel Alfredsson (71 pts in 70 games), C Jason Spezza (57 pts in 60 games), C Mike Fisher (25 G), LW Michalek (22 G), D Filip Kuba (11 PPP)
Pittsburgh's Offense vs. Ottawa's Defense
Pittsburgh: 5th in league
Ottawa: 18th in league
Pittsburgh is another team with great offensive depth. Along with the names mentioned above they also have Chris Kunitz, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Pascal Dupuis. D Alex Goligoski teams up well with Gonchar on the blueline.
Chemistry might have been a concern last year with the aquisitions of Kunitz and Guerin during the season. It is far from a concern this year. These lines have built up enough chemistry to help the Penguins go deep again.
Ottawa has some nice defenders like Kuba, Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson and Anton Volchenkov, all of whom averaged 20 minutes a game this season. They will be hard pressed to fend off the waves of offense that Pittsburgh will bring.
Ottawa's Offense vs. Pittsburgh's Defense
If Ottawa's players were healthy and playing up to their ability their offense could scare teams as well. Unfortunately both are not true.
Spezza and Michalek have both missed significant time this season due to injuries. Cheechoo as already mentioned was sent to the minors.
Daniel Alfredsson seemed to carry this team at times offensively. A nice surprise was Fisher's offensive play throughout the course of the season.
Ottawa's attack took a hit when it was announced that winger Alex Kovalev would miss the entire playoffs due to a torn ACL in his left knee.
Pittsburgh's defense focuses more on offense. Gonchar plays 24 minutes a game, but he is hardly recognized as a pure defender. Same goes for Goligoski, Jordan Leopold and Kris Letang. Better defenders on the Penguins are Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton.
With a healthy Kovalev things would be different in this match up.
Pittsburgh power play: 19th
Ottawa penalty kill: 8th
Ottawa power play: 21st
Pittsburgh penalty kill: 9th
Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT: 37-21-6, 2.65 GAA, .905 SV %
Brian Elliot, OTT: 29-18-4, 2.57, .909 SV %
Fleury seems to save his best for the playoffs as well. His numbers are very mediocre and definitely below what was expected of him this season. If he gets hot, watch out. Pittsburgh's offense isn't the only reason why they won the Stanley Cup last year.
Elliot on the other hand joins the Rask's, Howard's, and Halak's. He was supposed to sit and watch while Leclaire led the Senators back to the playoffs. Instead, during a stretch between January 18th and February 4th he won nine straight games with a shutout. He then again won six in a row with two shutouts the end of March.
Elliot is capable, but Fleury is proven.
If Pittsburgh wants to coast during this round like they seemed to do at times during this regular season, then they could be headed for a six or seven game series. If they put the pedal to the metal and attack Ottawa from the gate, this could be a very short series. I'm going with the latter. Pittsburgh in 5