Breaking down Sens vs. Pens

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:16 PM ET

PITTSBURGH — Are the Senators giant killers?

The Senators face the difficult challenge of trying to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, as they open Round 1 of the playoffs Wednesday at the Mellon Arena.

The task is not impossible for Ottawa.

The Cup rings worn by stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Bill Guerin mean nothing once the puck is dropped.

“The Senators have a chance,” said a Western Conference coach, who broke down the series on the condition of anonymity. “The Senators have gone through some tough stretches this year. They’ve had injuries, the coach was on the hot seat for a while and they turned it around.

“I wouldn’t think the difference (between the teams) is as large as what some people might give them. I really believe that the Senators have got a great chance in that series.”

With those thoughts in mind, here’s how the coach sees it:

Forwards

Essentially, it’s going to be Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Co. vs. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher, Milan Michalek, Matt Cullen and Peter Regin and some grinders. Not only are the Senators going to need offence, they’re going to have to shut down the Penguins as well. It can be done. It’s just not easy. “The Penguins are a very tough matchup team because of their depth,” said the coach. “If you look at the Penguins, their strength is down ther middle with Crosby, Malkin and Staal. They’ve got three lines that are going to be trying to ram it down your throat and make sure your top guys aren’t going to score. That’s a great luxury for Pittsburgh.” Losing Alex Kovalev is a blow for the Senators. The coach said Ottawa’s forwards are going to have to find a way to produce. “Since they’re starting on the road, the Senators are going to have to deal with the matchups that the Penguins want,” said the coach. “Ottawa’s top players are either going to have to outplay those guys or the Senators will have to design a checking line. Look, the Senators’ best players have to be their best players. That means Jason Spezza has to be as good, or almost as good, as Sidney Crosby. That’s going to be a big challenge.”

EDGE: Pittsburgh

Defence

The Senators changed the complexion of their defence by acquiring Andy Sutton at the trade deadline. Filip Kuba won’t return to the lineup after back surgery — a huge blow because he played a big role on the power play. But the Pittsburgh forwards are going to pay a price trying to go to the net. Anton Volchenkov, Matt Carkner and Sutton all play a rugged style, while Chris Phillips is solid. “The Senators will want this to turn into a physical game because they will want to wear down the Pittsburgh forwards. The issue is you have to be able to catch those forwards,” said the coach. “The thing is the Penguins can put a lot of pressure on those guys by taking good angles and good routes to the net. You have to be aggressive.” Sergei Gonchar, who runs the Pittsburgh power play, is the best blueliner in this series. For the Senators to have success, they will have to shut him down. Jay McKee and Brooks Orpik bring the muscle for the Pens. “The Pittsburgh defence has done a decent job,” said the coach. “I really believe Ottawa is better, but boy, this area is close.”

EDGE: Senators

Goaltending

Marc-Andre Fleury has been the goalie for a Cup winner. Been there, done that. The same can’t be said for Senators starter Brian Elliott. He goes into this series with a lot on the line. The coach has a question: “Which Brian Elliott is going to show up? Will it be the Brian Elliott who was very good for long stretches of time or do you get the guy who wasn’t very good for stretches of time as well? If you get him in a good stretch, he can beat anybody.” The coach said Fleury is the key. “I really believe if the Olympics had been anywhere but Vancouver, he would have been in the net,” said the coach. “I really think he is one of the best goalies in the league, but he has struggled lately. I think he has been playing better than Roberto Luongo.”

EDGE: Pittsburgh

Intangibles

The Penguins are reigning champs. They’re going to be the favourites. The Senators have a lot to prove. They weren’t in the playoffs last spring and were eliminated by Pittsburgh in four games in 2008. “Sidney Crosby has done it before. They have got the belief deep down, even when things aren’t going well, that they know how to win because they’ve done it recently,” said the coach. “Some of the guys who went to the final for Ottawa (in 2007) have that as well, but the Penguins have that recent championship. It’s a great asset when things aren’t going your way.” The Penguins aren’t dealing with the championship hangover, either. “They went through some growing pains at the start of the year. They’ve gotten everybody’s best game every night. They are mentally sharper and there’ll be adversity,” said the coach. “If you are going to beat the champs, you’ve got to knock them out. They’ve got the mental upper hand. The Senators have to play that much harder.”

EDGE: Pittsburgh

The coach’s pick

Pittsburgh in seven.


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