Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Penguins-Senators Preview

Here's the thing about this series (and the next series, if the Pens win this series): It's going to take a big time effort from the Senators for them to win.  Or, the Pens are going to need to implode as badly as they imploded against the Islanders for 2.5 games, but for the entire series.

Honestly, that's not saying that Ottawa (or Boston or the Rangers) are any better or worse than the Islanders.  It's saying that the three possible remaining opponents for the Pens don't scare me.  The Islanders scared me to a degree in that they were young and unpredictable.  They have a bunch of great skaters and very skilled players.  They're just rough around the edges, couldn't quite grasp the moment, and weren't as deep as the Penguins.

And, really, when you stack everything up, the Pens played a solid series.  They had a +8 goal differential, went 7 for 21 on the power play, killed 18 out of 20 penalties, and have three of the top five scorers in the playoffs. 

Yes, I know they went to overtime twice, but they won both of those games.  Yes, I know Fleury looked lost and helpless for a long stretch there, but they put in Vokoun and he won his two starts.  I know they were outshot and outhustled for about half of the series, but they still scored eight more goals than their opponents and they still recorded two shutouts.

They didn't win with authority.  They should've crushed and swept the 8 seed and asked who was the next to be slaughtered.  But... they still won and they still won pretty convincingly.

I also know that the Senators smoked the Canadiens in five games, winning two of those games by a convincing 6-1 margin.  The thing you have to keep in mind there is that Montreal kinda sucks.  They limped into the series, were playing their worst hockey at the end of the season, weren't getting much in the way of defense or goaltending, and couldn't muster enough offense to offset that.  If Montreal made it past Ottawa, they weren't making it past their next opponent.

Ottawa's strengths lined up perfectly against Montreal's weaknesses.  The same could be said about the Islanders strengths and the Pens weaknesses.  The difference is that the Pens found a way to win -- and fairly convincingly -- and Canadiens got destroyed.

The Senators aren't particularly flashy or skilled or fast or deep.  They're not dangerous.  They're not young.  They're not exciting.  They're a methodical, disciplined team that converted every mistake Montreal made and took advantage of every opportunity Montreal afforded them.

When the Pens are playing their preferred brand of hockey, they don't make many mistakes and they don't afford their opponents many opportunities.  They prefer to line up their best guys against your best guys and force you to beat them.  Since they're so skilled and so deep, they usually come out on top.  They were skilled enough and deep enough and had enough mental fortitude to beat the Islanders in six, even when they weren't playing their preferred brand of hockey.

I think they can beat Ottawa even if they don't play their preferred brand of hockey.  I think they can also beat the Rangers or Bruins.  (I don't think they would be able to beat any of the four teams left in the West, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves).

Just for the Ottawa series, I think they keep things tight, keep things boring, and should be able to win if they don't completely implode.  The Senators just aren't explosive enough to make the Pens pay consistently enough for it to matter. 

I think the Pens can gut out another ugly series and move on.  If they actually start to put everything together in this series and play close to perfect, then it'll be over in five.

Prediction: Pens in Six.

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