Penguins' title experience gives them edge
By Bruce Garrioch, OTTAWA SUN
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

[IMGL][/IMGL]Are the Ottawa Senators giant killers?

The Senators face the difficult challenge of trying to knock off the Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, as they open Round 1 of the playoffs Wednesday at Mellon Arena, but the task is not impossible.

While Pittsburgh has stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Bill Guerin, their Stanley Cup rings mean nothing once the puck is dropped.

"The Senators have a chance," said a Western Conference coach who broke down the series, speaking 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 two 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:


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.

Not only are the Senators going to have to find offense, 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 the 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 Alexei Kovalev is a blow because he was brought in to help at playoff time. The coach said Ottawa's forwards are going to have to find a way to compensate.

"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: Penguins


The Senators have changed the complexion of their defense by bringing in Andy Sutton at the trade deadline. Filip Kuba has been lost for the year after back surgery, and that's tough because he played a big role on the power play.

The Penguins' 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 do 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 is the best blueliner in this series. He runs the power play and has to be shut down. Jay McKee and Brooks Orpik bring the muscle for the Pens.

"The Pittsburgh defense has done a decent job," said the coach. "I really believe Ottawa is better, but boy, this area is close."

Edge: Senators


Marc-Andre Fleury has a Cup ring. He knows what it takes to get his game to the next level. The same can't be said for 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: Penguins


The Penguins are the reigning Cup champs and will be the favorites. The Senators have a lot of proving to do. 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 finals 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 anymore.

"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 they'll be ready for 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: Penguins

The coach's pick: Penguins in seven