The “getting to know you…again” period has ended between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators 4 – 1, putting the Pens up 1 – 0 in the series. Within 48 hours, video will be reviewed, adjustments made, and play will tighten before the puck drops for Game 2.
Given the history between these two teams and the way Ottawa handled Les Habitants of Montreal, another team with a propensity to give the Pens fits over the years, the expectation is that this series should be a challenge. However, the Pens came out in workman-like fashion, well-tempered and but for some early back and forth, they dominated play. In fact, if this is the Senators team to be faced as it showed in Game 1, one could argue that the Islanders made for a much more formidable foe.
Bigger Better Toolbox – The Penguins are so deep that they have the luxury of sitting skills center Jussi Jokinen and rookie bright light Beau Bennett. Ray Shero’s addition of former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla and former Dallas Stars captain Brendan Morrow creates 3 of the Pens’ 4 lines with a literal captain. Talk about being anchored. In addition, Iginla and Morrow bring that veteran experience that helps settle teams and weather challenges. Does Jussi get in again? Perhaps giving center Brandon Sutter a break would be one way to do it. Some have suggested giving Morrow a blow, but swapping a center and a winger are not always easy transitions. Despite the jaw and being throated by a puck in the last series, Sidney Crosby continues to produce, and despite his frustrating, uneven play, Evgeni Malkin continues to manage to rack up points. Mark Madden of Pittsburgh radio hockey-talk fame has characterized Tomas Vokoun as one of the best #2 goalies, not a back-up, stressing there is a difference, and there is. He is making Madden’s point as he helped to finish off the Islanders and has transitioned into the current series with a strong showing in the 4-1 win, settling down after a squidgy pickle-stabber goal that prevented him from getting the shut-out. His puck-handling ability is reminiscent of Tom Barrasso, which will be helpful on defensive zone break-outs, and his stalwart “stand-up” play of the puck has proven wise because of the number of high shots put up by the Senators.
On the other side of the ice, the Senators are sorely missing half of their dynamic duo in Jason Spezza so that an aging Daniel Alfredsson has a lot of responsibility to carry. Young Erik Karlsson, despite the achilles injury has stepped up to provide what he can, and he has been interesting to watch. After enjoying domination over the Montreal Canadiens, Sens netminder, Craig Anderson, had his ears pinned back by a relentless Penguins offense who traditionally seem to have his number, but expect him to shore up his play. Unfortunately for Ottawa, Eric Gryba is still feeling the ill-effects of a classic Brooks Orpik open ice check and will be out of the line-up for Game 2.
Neal vs. Neil – Really, but for the name that sounds the same but is spelled differently, there is no comparison between the Pens’ James Neal and the Sens’ Chris Neil. James is as they say, “the real deal” — strong on the puck, a 20-goal scorer in the shortened regular season and a formidible presence in front of the net. Chris is just shy of a full reincarnation of Sean Avery. Remember him? Neil agitates in questionable ways and has shown he can be dangerous in ways that are disadvantageous and detrimental to his team. At some point in this series, hopefully in Game 2 just to be done with it, he needs to be dealt with. The Pens have plenty of guys who could fit that bill, or hey, they could just take turns all night.
“Ok, But It Had Better Work” – Again, props to Mark Madden for this phrase when describing some of the interesting line-up changes coming from Dan Bylsma. This was in regards to Bylsma going back to putting Chris Kunitz with Sid and Iginla back with Geno and James Neal. The general argument has been that Iginla is a career right winger, but Neal’s production has increased on the right wing. What to do, what to do? As the “Old Two-Niner” Phil Bourque told Madden in a Game 2-Day interview, Bylsma’s explanation to the press was that Neal was a left wing when he played for the Dallas Stars, and Iginla told the coach that he’s comfy on the left side. Add to that a very interesting and somewhat strange defensive pairing of the moving monument that is Douglas Murray with Deryk Engelland. It’s a slow pairing and a bit worrisome, leaving fans to look askance and say, “Ok…but it had better work.” Well, so far so good, and with Vokoun backing them up with his deft puck movement, especially the “longball” up ice, he actually supports them and gives them the time they need to maneuver.
Regarding the Kunitz-Iginla switch, Kuni has shown he can play with either big center, so for him, it’s not a much of an adjustment. He does bring a little more speed to the game for Sid than Iginla seems to; however, don’t count the old man’s days yet. He’s shown he can break out with the best of them with speed and moves, and he’s got the experience of playing with Sid for Team Canada in the Olympics. Then there’s Pascal Dupuis. Given his impressive body of work in the last two seasons, and especially this year, he’s shown he’s a sniper at wing, a solid center (far moreso than the failed experiment with Tyler Kennedy that lasted all of 30 seconds), and upper most, he seems comfortable in any role on any line with any combination of guys. He’s savage and sick (in a good way) on the PK, and got a rare short-handed goal for the team this year in the playoffs. What can’t he do?
I Coulda Had a V8…or a 48…with a 46: It has been reported by Phil Bourque that during their down time in the first series when neither Tyler Kennedy, nor Joe Vitale was in the line-up, they sat and slowly simmered. They talked amongst themselves about what they would do if they broke back into the line-up and it wasn’t just enough to get by. They were going to make such an impact that Coach would be hardpressed to pull them out of the line-up. While Vitale has been more regularly noticeable this season than TK, when they got their chance against the Islanders, they were as good as their promise. They hit, they rushed, they shot, and Vitale has been strong in the faceoff circle. With Jordan Staal gone and Brendan Morrow added to the 3rd line, TK has really shown that his true talent is in the 4th line where he and Vitale along with one of the hardest working dudes in hockey, Craig Adams, have made their presences felt all over the ice. Adams increases his value every time he takes a shift even strength and without question as part of what has become again a tough penalty killing unit.
Without overlooking this series, the Penguins would do well to put away Ottawa as early as possible so that with rest, they can take advantage of what could shape up to be another 7-game series for both the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers. Just imagining how that would all shape up gives hockey fans cause to salivate in anticipation.