After reviewing the goaltenders and the defensemen involved in the round 2 series between the Penguins and Senators, and giving the Sens an edge in both areas, what will the forward matchup look like?
The big wildcard here is Jason Spezza, and how soon he will return to the lineup, if at all, and what shape will he be in.
This is a big contast in terms of name recognition and experience. After Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil and Milan Michalek, there isn’t a ton of experience on the Senators forward units. Contrasting with that, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy are all holdovers from the Stanley Cup that Pittsburgh won in 2010. Add to that mix veteran captains Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, and the dangerous James Neal, and at least on paper the Senators don’t stand a chance.
If you go line by line, here is how they teams propose to match up, and at least to start the series, without Spezza.
|Latendresse, Stone, O’Brien, Regin||EXTRAS||Jokinen, Bennett, Glass|
If Spezza cannot go or is not near 100%, then the Penguins have a distinct advantage. Turris matched up ok with the likes of Desharnais and Plekanec against Montreal, but they are no Crosby/Malkin duo. That creates a trickle-down effect right to the fourth line.
However, if Spezza is ok to go, that changes everything, and gives the Senators a puncher’s chance of going head to head. Remember, as much as the Pens lit up the scoreboard at times against the Islanders, their best players were even or hovering around that mark,
As I said, on paper, the Penguins look unbeatable, but you can’t skate and score on paper. Execution is key, and the Senators did that as well or better than the star-studded Penguins did in round 1. Sure, Pittsburgh scored more, but not by much and the attention to detail in their own end was lacking, while the Senators played a more even all-around game.
They proved in the first round that although the consistency is lacking, the Penguins can flip the switch on occasion and score at will. The units they will be able to throw out there on the power play will definitely test the Senators penalty killing ability, and they have the experience at the NHL level to fall back on.
While there is no doubt that the Penguins are more talented as a group, the bottom 6 of Ottawa, especially with Spezza in the lineup on the top line to create the juggling on the bottom 2 lines, has a distinct advantage in terms of skill. Getting Spezza back should bump Greening to the third line and Kassian to the press box, since Pittsburgh doesn’t really have a fighter for him to match up with. There is just something about the way the Senators have gelled together as a unit, and although I hesitate to use the P-word, they are just that….Pesky. There is no other description for it, and they have the habit of playing to the level of their competition at times, sometimes to their benefit, others to their detriment.
I still have to give the edge overall to Pittsburgh, but not by as much as many people would think, especially before the playoffs began. That gap has narrowed in my mind although not quite to the point where I would call it a draw.