Sens' thoughts turn to Sid

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

PITTSBURGH — The Senators’ mission: Shut down Sid the Kid.

The Pittsburgh Penguins boast plenty of firepower, but when Ottawa and Pittsburgh open their first-round playoff series Wednesday night at the Mellon Arena, the Senators’ No. 1 focus will be No. 87.

With 51 goals in the regular season, Crosby shared the Rocket Richard Trophy with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, but the former NHL MVP has never had much luck putting the puck in the net against Ottawa. In 17 career regular-season games against the Senators, he has scored only twice.

The Senators hope that trend continues this post-season.

Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said it requires a total team effort to keep a player of Crosby’s calibre in check.

“It really starts in the neutral zone,” said Phillips, who along with hard-hitting defence partner Anton Volchenkov will draw most of the ice time against Crosby.

“We’ve got a strong focus to try and take away his space there. We try to have someone close to his teammates to try to limit him. He’s got good speed and you just have to be aware. It’s not just the two defencemen that are out there. It’s all five guys. You have to be aware of when he’s out there and be extra focused.”

At the same time, Phillips said, giving Crosby too much attention can backfire. Keeping Canada’s Olympic hero off the scoresheet will mean nothing if Evgeni Malkin nets three goals, as he did in an 8-2 victory over the Senators on Dec. 23 in Pittsburgh.

“You can’t just be worried about (Crosby),” Phillips said. “You have to make sure the other guys don’t get open as well.”

Ottawa coach Cory Clouston knows the Penguins have plenty of depth. He said one of the best ways of keeping the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Sergei Gonchar and Alexei Ponikarovsky from doing damage with the puck is by preventing them from having it in the first place.

In other words, the more time the Senators spend in Pittsburgh’s zone, the less time Crosby and friends have to build any offensive momentum of their own.

“We have to have a structured, defensive game plan,” said Clouston. “But we feel if we can put pressure on them offensively, we can make them defend and get them out of their element.

“The more time that they don’t have the puck, the better. I don’t know if you can stop them. It’s a matter of trying to contain the damage.”

Former Pittsburgh winger Jarkko Ruutu said the Senators have to be tenacious to try to frustrate the Penguins.

“It’s like anyone — you finish your check every time you can and make them feel it, and in the long run they won’t have the jump anymore,” said Ruutu. “You have to play them tight, take their speed and time away. They are two good players, but when you play as a team, just the way we played in the second half of the season, we can beat anybody.”

Ottawa centre Chris Kelly agreed the Senators must make the Penguins’ big guns feel their presence.

“It’s going to be a physical series,” Kelly said. “You need to know when Crosby, Malkin and Staal are on the ice and finish your checks on them. They don’t need to be killing checks. You just want to wear them down with bumps and bruises. In a long, seven-game series, that may pay off.”

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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