PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Penguins will open up their best-of-seven second round series with the Ottawa Senators tonight at CONSOL Energy Center.
So, who will win the series? What are the keys to victory?
I asked some of my colleagues here at KDKA-TV what they thought.
KDKA-TV Morning News Co-Anchor Rick Dayton: Ask Montreal or Washington if upsets happen in the NHL playoffs. The Canadiens and Capitals were the second seed and third seed in the Eastern Conference, and both teams had home ice advantage for their quarterfinal match-ups. Yet, both are done after falling in the opening round of the post-season chase for the Stanley Cup. Ottawa, the 7th seed, bounced Montreal in a bloody five-game battle, while the Rangers booted Washington in seven. (The Western Conference saw the two, three and four seeds knocked out in the quarterfinals.) Now, the Senators set their sights on ousting the top-seeded Penguins — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.
Pittsburgh and Ottawa are very familiar Eastern Conference foes. They have met in the playoffs three times since 2007, with the Pens knocking Ottawa out of the playoffs the last two times they met. However, this Ottawa club has one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in Craig Anderson. In five games against Montreal, he stopped 171 of 180 shots for a sparkling .950 save percentage. Pittsburgh pulled number one goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in round one after allowing six goals in Game Four. Tomas Vokoun won Games 5 and 6 to clinch the series, but it remains to be seen if he will get the nod in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Sens. Expect to see Fleury back between the pipes for Game 1, but coach Dan Bylsma may keep his goalie on a short leash after seeing how well the veteran Vokoun played against the Islanders.
Four of the top post-season scorers play for Pittsburgh. At times against the Islanders, the Penguins looked like they could score whenever and however they wanted. But, that was not against a goalie like Anderson. The Senators also have Erik Karlsson, the Norris Trophy winner who is back in action after having 70 percent of his Achilles tendon sliced by Matt Cooke’s skate back in February. Three months later, Karlsson looks as good as ever, showing the form that earned him the Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s top defensemen. The Senators’ offense can’t match the Penguins’ offensive fire-power, but if they don’t allow more than two or three goals per game, they may not have to.
The key to the series will be special teams. Pittsburgh’s power play exploded in the first round and operated at a league-best 33 percent clip. Ottawa’s penalty kill held Montreal to just 10 percent (2 for 20) — and as they have said in hockey circles for decades, the best penalty killer is your goaltender — and Anderson just might be the best in the business.
The old saying in baseball is that good pitching beats good hitting. Pens fans have to hope their offense is able to solve the Senators’ defense — and they have to hope that if it is Fleury in net, he is markedly better than what he showed in Games 2-4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Islanders.
Don’t get me wrong, the Penguins can and should beat Ottawa. Pittsburgh won all three regular season games despite never scoring more than four goals against the Sens. The problem for Ottawa is that for long stretches this season they struggled to generate offense. If you expect the Penguins to score 30 goals in the series and win lopsided laughers, I think you will be disappointed. However, the Penguins will win and move into the Eastern Conference Finals.
PREDICTION: Penguins In 6
KDKA-TV Reporter Ross Guidotti: This series will test the Pens more so than the first round battle with the Islanders.
The keys to this series will be to match the speed and grit the Sens will bring to the ice. They’re established with veteran players including Sergei Gonchar back on the blue line as well as a possible return of Jason Spezza. Erik Karlsson is one of the best offensive-defensemen in the league. His play against the Canadiens was good enough and is likely to only improve with each shift. Also, he’s not going to admit it, but the “Matt Cooke incident” will be running in the back of his mind and will fuel his desire to win.
Also, they won’t be facing a goaltender who was a human sieve like Evgeni Nabokov. Sens goalie Craig Anderson is playing like the best goaltender in the league. Do not underestimate Ottawa. This is a solid team and “will” make the Pens work.
As for the Pens, lessons learned. The only way to match playoff speed is with playoff speed and speed kills! The defense has to improve and like I was always told when I was a kid, there are 5 DEFENSEMEN AND A GOALIE ON THE ICE WHEN THE PUCK’S IN YOUR ZONE!
Forwards have to backcheck as well as forecheck. No more circling at the red line waiting for a stretch pass. Support, support, support. Physicality goes without saying.
And turnovers – too many. With support will come secure possession and movement into the offensive zone. This not a novel concept, it’s execution that makes it happen.
The Pens played well against the Sens this year. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Ottawa this year, but play the hot hand that means it’s Tomas Vokoun’s job until he proves he should sit.
Yes, Marc-Andre has a ring, but that was then and this is now. After all it is “About the Cup.”
PREDICTION: Hard, hurting, bloody and hateful, but the Pens in 7.
KDKA-TV Sports Anchor Bob Pompeani: This is a different challenge compared to the New York Islanders.
Ottawa does not have four lines with the speed of New York. They won’t pose as much of a problem in the transition game as the Islanders did.
What they do well is get physical with their defensemen with all-in support of their goalie Craig Anderson, who has been one of the best in the NHL this year. The Penguins, it should be noted, have had success against Anderson, but he is far better than Evgeni Nabokov who, I thought, was terrible in the first series and the biggest reason why the Penguins advanced.
One pivotal category will be the special teams, which certainly helped the Penguins in the previous series. They were prolific on it, while keeping the Islanders, for the most part off the board (10 percent).
Ottawa has one of the top penalty killing units in the game. The Penguins need to win this category of the breakdown.
The Penguins beat Ottawa in all three games this year. They also eliminated the Senators from the playoffs in 2008 and 2010.
Things to watch: Jason Spezza, if he gets back. The Senators really need help at center for this series. I believe the Penguins have a huge advantage down the middle with Crosby and Malkin. Ottawa should not be able to deal with that.
I think Brenden Morrow will be a much bigger factor in this series than last. Morrow looked slow comparatively to New York. Ottawa’s style of game plays into Morrow’s game. He’s a banger and a guy who can cause havoc in front of Anderson. I firmly believe the Penguins will have to crash the net much more in this series and get rebounds, if Anderson gives any up.
PREDICTION: The Penguins are still the better team. I believe the Penguins will win this series in 6 games and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
For my full analysis and prediction, check out the series preview here!
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