Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Penguins and Ottawa

Posted on May 12 2017 - 2:14pm by Jason McDermott

Looking to see this happen again. -AP

The Pittsburgh Penguins, fresh off of the annual Spring rite of passage….eliminating the Washington Capitals….now face another Nation’s Capital in the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators took two of three games against the Penguins this past regular season.  Their power play operated at a stunning 50% against Pittsburgh ( 6 for 12 ) and their superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson registered 7 points in those three games.

Ottawa took out the NY Rangers in 6 games, constantly putting pressure on Henrik Lundqvist and finding room on his short side over and over.  Many would call the series win by Ottawa an upset, but clearly they haven’t been paying attention to the Rangers the last 18 months or so.  Any team with speed will end their season.

Ottawa depends on Karlsson so much, if you let him control the game with the puck he can win games and even a series on his own.  Add into the mix the great story of Craig Anderson and all he has battled with his wife having a battle with cancer and the Sens have the talent and the extra motivation to ride through the playoffs.

Pittsburgh leads in all time playoff series match-ups 3 series to 1.  The last meeting was 2013, a Pens five-game victory….right before that Boston series happened….

For the rest of their line up, the Senators boast a lot of grit and hard working players that like to slow down and frustrate opponents into mistakes.  A 1-3-1 is often employed by head coach Guy Boucher, who did the same during his time in Tampa Bay.

We meet again, Bond villain extraordinaire. via The Ottawa Sun

 

You will hate Chris Neil all over again sometime during the first period on Saturday evening.  Derek Brassard will do his best to pester the Penguins as he did in back to back playoff rounds a couple of years ago.  Trade deadline pick up Alex Burrows from Vancouver has been a welcome and energizing addition for Ottawa.  Add in Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman to go with Bobby Ryan and the Sens have some punch to go with their grit.

Heck, even J-G Pageau had a four goal game on the so called ‘King’ Lundqvist.

They may not scare you like the Caps forwards do on paper, but their work ethic is much better than the recently dispatched Caps team.

Where you can take advantage of the Sens is on defense.  Getting the puck through the neutral zone and attacking their defense is where Pittsburgh will win this series.  Even Karlsson for all of his skill and talent with the puck, is just an average defender, capable of defensive lapses and turnovers that could change a game or series.

There was some drama between the teams….pictured below is Marc Methot’s finger after a Sindey Crosby slash during the teams last meeting, a 2-1 Sens win.

Marc Methot's Finger

Sens owner Eugene Melnyk, who has spouted off about the Penguins before, called for Crosby to be drawn and quartered….or suspended for the season, my memory is a tad fuzzy.  Something to keep an eye on over the next two week.

The Penguins seemingly have slayed the biggest obstacle on their way to a repeat, but that cannot and will not be their mind set coming in.  You need look no further than last spring against Tampa Bay when the ‘experts’ were calling for a sweep, and yet the Lightning pushed the Penguins to two elimination games in that series.  They also thoroughly out played the Pens and stole home ice in game one of that series.

Pittsburgh will look to build upon the best game they have played in this entire post-season from this past Wednesday and make sure that doesn’t happen.  Pittsburgh has been out shot in 11 of 12 post season games this year.  But their breakouts and defending last game give a lot of hope that that trend may start to reverse itself.

In many ways the key to this series may lie in game 1 itself.  If the Pens come out and establish themselves, it could result in an early and decisive result in favor of the defending champs.  A home loss to start could instill enough confidence in Ottawa to push the series six or seven games.

Mike Warren’s Thoughts:

1. The Senators play a very systematic style and try to keep it that. If they Penguins can coax them out of this system, then the series could go quickly. Saying that I think a team that has a plan and sticks to it and executes from game 1 to the end of the series is one that has a chance. Both Columbus and Washington took way to long into the series to define that exact style they wanted. Ottawa’s roster is not filled with any big name guys, so the system is what they need. Difficult to look at that roster and see them beating the Penguins but if they can play as a unit and catch a few breaks than anything is possible, and the Penguins cannot overlook this team. Coming off that Capitals series win I do get nervous that Pittsburgh might not be 100% ready for Ottawa.
2. Along the same lines of Pittsburgh maybe having a little of a hangover from the Caps, the Senators need to be ready. Yes, they are in the finals, but they beat a weak Bruins team and a flawed Rangers team to get here. Ottawa is now playing the defending Stanley Cup Champs.  The Penguins just beat the number 1 and number 4 teams in the NHL in the playoffs and did it not playing all that well. This has be a scary thought for the Senators as a sub-par start to the series could get them behind the eight ball early.
3. Erik Karlsson is a bad man and probably the best defenseman in the league and one of the best players. But the Pens can give him fits. First, they have the skill to make him work in his own end. Second, they are fast which always puts pressure on you to speed up your decision making. 3rd, if they can bang him at every chance, they get it will affect him, especially since he is playing with a broken foot.
4.  Will Jake Guentzel keep it up? Lost in these entire playoffs is really how great of a playoff rookie season Guentzel is having. He recently passed up Jaromir Jagr in playoff points as a rookie and for those who remember Jagr was pretty good. Also, Guentzel has done this in just two series compared to all 4 for Jagr.  I say he keeps on rolling and has another good series.
5. Marc-Andre Fleury, if he keeps this up, plain and simple, the Pens won’t lose. You have to imagine after that game seven performance and how loose he looked, that he is going just to continue to roll. In the Ottawa net, Craig Anderson is a very underrated goalie and can certainly steal a game or 3 if the Penguins are not careful so for this to go as we all want it to MAF needs to keep it up and outplay Anderson.
6. Pittsburgh stars need to shine and shine early. Don’t let Ottawa hang around and think they have a chance. If you can get the offense and speed going right away and dictate the pace, then the series will be much easier. The longer it goes, the more of a chance Ottawa has and the more confidence they will gain. Pittsburgh needs a fast start to game 1 and two at home.  This will happen, and the as Pittsburgh rolls in game 1.
7. Eugene Melnyk, what will this nut job have to spout off about in this series. You know it will be something, and hopefully, he will be a distraction for Ottawa. From working in sports I have learned one thing,  it hard to have real legitimate success when your owner lives in a dream world and does not operate within the confines of the organization. So here’s to hope this guy loses his mind in the round does something insane.

Prediction:  Pens in 5

Injuries

 

MAF is the starter, don’t even think otherwise, right now. via ESPN.com

 

Matt Murray returned to the Penguin’s lineup in Game 7 last Wednesday and served as the back up.  Tristan  Jarry was seen skating with the black aces on Friday so this confirms that Murray is healthy enough to be used.  Kris Letang is of course still out.  Carl Hagelin was on the ice for practice on Friday after being a healthy scratch against the Caps.  Trevor Daley remains out after suffering a lower body injury in game five.  The Pens are battered and bruised enough that at times it affects their on ice play, but so far, so good.

For Ottawa, Karlsson has two hairline fractures in his heel….it’s not slowing him down, so don’t get your hopes up.  He has 13 points in 12 games so far, and is averaging nearly 30 minutes a game of ice time.  that’s half the game, math nerds….he’s fine.

Victor Stalberg left game six against the Rags but has a chance to play on Saturday.  Defenseman Mark Boroweicki is not available after being injured against Boston in round one.

Schedule:

Prediction Time

If Pittsburgh keeps their focus and puts a Crosby and Malkin out at the same time as Karlsson as much as possible they will neutralize him and then overwhelm the other Sens defenseman.  The key, as it was in the Caps series will be the breakouts and executing them in a proper fashion.  Supporting the puck and not trying for too many home run stretch passes.  Having more from Jake Guentzel and strong defensive play from Dumoulin, Maatta, and and Ian Cole will be crucial.  Pittsburgh has four of the seven top scorers in the playoffs through the first two rounds.  Keeping the Sens power play off of the ice would also help ensure a favorable result.  If the Sens plug away and keep the confidence they have had through the first two rounds, it could turn into a repeat of the 1993 nightmare vs the Islanders……but it won’t.  Pens in 6

 

Western Conference Finals

Jason:  Nashville over Anaheim in 7

Mike:   Nashville in 6, with the bonus being me taking a trip to Nashville to the Stanley Cup finals!

 

I’ll have your Game 1 recap late Saturday or early Sunday morning.

Thanks for reading and Let’s Go Pens!!!

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