NHL Playoffs scouting report: Penguins vs. Senators
Erik Karlsson is back, and that changes everything about the Ottawa Senators.
“The dynamic of him as a player on the ice – his up-ice ability, his ability behind the blue line, his skating, his shot,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He's dangerous. He's always a factor.”
Karlsson was set to challenge for another Norris Trophy – he was honored as the NHL's top defenseman last season – before his Achilles tendon was accidentally sliced by the skate blade of Penguins winger Matt Cooke in a game on Feb. 13.
The Senators were 7-4-2 before Karlsson was lost until the final week of the regular season.
With him and goalie Craig Anderson – also out a chuck of the season because of an injury – back in the mix, the Senators easily dispatched No. 2 seeded Montreal in Round 1.
The favored Penguins had their troubles with the No. 8 seeded New York Islanders in Round 1, but showed flashes of dominance (two shutout victories at home) and determination (two overtime wins on the road).
Bylsma said the Senators are systematically different from the Islanders, who relied on a neutral-zone trap to deny the Penguins' clean breakout passes.
“(The Senators) play with a lot of speed throughout the lineup,” Bylsma said. “That makes them effective.
“I also think they really showed a lot in the last series they played. They put a team back on their heels, a team that was fast and quick.”
REGULAR SEASON RESULTS
The Penguins went 3-0-0 against the Senators. They outscored the Senators, 8-4, in those games.
Penguins: RW James Neal (2 goals): Neal, C Sidney Crosby, D Paul Martin, LW Brenden Morrow (tied, 2 assists; Neal (4 points). Senators: LW Colin Greening, D Patrick Wiercioch, Cs Jim O'Brien and Stephane Da Costa (tied, 1 goal); RW Daniel Alfredsson, D Sergei Gonchar (tied, 2 assists); Alfredsson, Gonchar (tied, 2 points).
Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury (2-0-0, .951 save percentage, 1.44 goals-against average), Tomas Vokoun (1-0-0, .971 save percentage, 1.00 goals-against average). Senators: Anderson (0-2-1, .909 save percentage, 2.61 goals-against average).
Dan Bylsma, Penguins
Playoff record: 32-24, won Stanley Cup (2009).
Paul MacLean, Senators
Playoff record: 7-5
The Penguins have won two of three series.
2007 Eastern Conference quarterfinal: Senators 4, Penguins 1
The Penguins' young stars – Crosby was in his second season, fellow Cs Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal their first – spearheaded the fourth-best single season turnaround in NHL history and the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2001. A victory in Game 2 earned them a split at Ottawa, but close losses at Mellon Arena in Games 3 and 4 swung the series for the Senators, who went on to play in the Cup Final after ousting the Penguins in five games.
2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinal: Penguins 4, Senators 0
Crosby and Co. needed no reminder of the previous postseason, but a giant photo outside the visiting dressing room in Ottawa provided one. That picture – of the handshake that followed the 2007 series between these clubs – was a source of inspiration to the Penguins. So was RW Gary Roberts, who set a tone in Game 1 with two goals and a desire to fight any Senators player willing to cross a Penguins teammate. The Senators were barely competitive in the sweep that began the Penguins' Cup Final march.
2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinal: Penguins 4, Senators 2
The Penguins raced to a 3-1 series lead that never quite felt comfortable and before long they were facing a possible Game 7. The Senators won Game 5 at Mellon Arena in triple overtime then jumped to a 3-0 lead in Game 6 at home in front of a frenzied crowd at ScotiaBank Place. Two goals by LW Matt Cooke and one from RW Bill Guerin pulled the Penguins even, and RW Pascal Dupuis won the series in overtime. That was, until these playoffs, the last postseason series won by the Penguins.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
James Neal, Penguins
Anderson is as good as it gets between the pipes, but left-handed shooters can get the best of him. Neal possesses arguably the NHL's best off-angle left-handed shot. The Senators' system does not call for a lot of one-on-one defending in the offensive zone. Neal is expert at finding creases and openings from which to shoot. He should generate chances in Round 2.
Jason Spezza, Senators
He practiced Sunday for the first time since undergoing surgery on his back in February. The Senators have not ruled him out to play at some point in Round 2. When at full health, Spezza is a legitimate top-line center. His high hockey IQ and elite playmaking capabilities could cause problems for Penguins defensemen who often struggled to mark Islanders forwards in the slot during Round 1.