After earlier comparing the last line of defence in this series, the goaltending, it is time to look at the next level, the defensemen. The resepctive defense corps are remarkably similar in how they are built, and it will be interesting to see how they match up in real life. I think it is interesting to take a look at them man for man to see which team, if any, has an advantage.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner matches up with the player who could unseat him this year. Karlsson is arguably the most important skater on the Senators, and despite the start studded forward unit of the Penguins, I would argue that Letang is Pittsburgh’s most important player. If Karlsson is acknowledged as the premiere offensive blueliner in the league, the closest thing to him is Letang. They are so similar, but Letang also has a bit of a mean streak that Karlsson doesn’t have. When 100% healthy, Karlsson is the more dynamic player of the two, but I am not sure he is yet at 100% – ADVANTAGE: EVEN
Both of these players are counted on to provide stellar defense and allow their partners to play the offensive role. Both are exceptional defenders, but Methot has shown himself to be able to more easily contribute at the offensive end, the OT goal in game 6 from Orpik notwithstanding. Methot has been so good that he has been getting himself into the conversation when it comes to Team Canada. ADVANTAGE: Senators
This is a matchup of veteran players who can get the job done at the offensive end. Both have been playmakers this post-season, with Martin outscoring Gonchar 6-4 so far, and playing about 3 more minutes per game. Gonchar’s biggest contribution will be on the power play, but even at 39 he still plays over 20 minutes a night. ADVANTAGE: EVEN
Youngster Cowen matches up with the slightly more seasoned veteran Niskanen. Neither one will put up a ton of offense at this point in their careers, but are solid all-around players who will not give an inch. Cowen is bigger than Niskanen, and has brought an element to his game that the Senators were missing once he returned from hip surgery. Niskanen has been very good in Pittsburgh all season, and provides solid defense. Cowen’s combination of size and mobility make the difference. ADVANTAGE: Senators
Another very even matchup is the grizzled veterans Phillips and Murray. Murray was acquired from the Sharks because he is built like the proverbial brick outhouse and is a competitor. His size (6’3″, 235 lbs) makes him an imposing figure on the blue line, and he has even chipped in a couple of goals in the first round. Phillips has always stepped up his game in the playoffs, and has not changed that this year. Phillips has always been sneaky offensively at times, and with just 1 assist so far this playoff, he could be due at that end. ADVANTAGE: EVEN
With the first 5 spots for each team pretty much set in stone, the sixth spot has been a revolving door for both clubs. Each team has a combination of size (Gryba/Engelland) as well as skilled puck movers (Benoit, Wiercioch vs Despres/Eaton). While the edge in terms of experience would have to go to the Penguins, the impact Gryba has made cannot go unnoticed. He has been maligned for most of the season, but has gained the confidence of Paul MacLean and was put back into the lineup after his suspension and the injury to Patrick Wiercioch in game 3 against the Canadiens. Despres is a rookie, and could develop into the best of the bunch, but at this time he is still not there. ADVANTAGE: EVEN
So there you have it. These blueline corps could be looking into a mirror when it comes to the guys that will be standing on the opposite blue line when the puck drops. It is really remarkable how similar they appear when you break down the matchup man for man. Most of the matchups I see as being pretty even, with a slight Senators edge in a couple of the matchups, but that could be a factor of having seen them play more. I am sure you could make the arguement the other way as well.
OVERALL ADVANTAGE – Slightly towards the SENATORS.