Monday, April 7, 2008

Sens Will Have To Rely On Intangibles To Beat The Pens

After a long, miserable, and uneven season, the Ottawa Senators finally get back to the playoffs where at least they have had some recent success.

A trip to the Cup final last year won’t do them any favours against the Penguins, but it might stir up memories which leads to better focus and confidence.

And they’re going to need it, pal.

This might prove to be the most exciting first-round series in the league because the Pens can score in bunches while the Senators seemingly can’t play consistent defence and have suspect goaltending in Martin Gerber. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a multitude of games that feature 7 goals or more because Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins doesn’t exactly have a stellar playoff resume in his young career either.

But it probably won’t come down to goaltending in the end.

If the Senators are being honest and not just playing games with the media, the injuries to Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher are as lethal as you can get. Some are saying that Alfredsson has an MCL sprain while others are hinting that Alfie will be good to go in game 1 and that Bryan Murray is merely trying to keep the Penguins off-stride in their game preparations. Alfredsson has no visible limp when he walks but that doesn’t mean he’s healthy. It’s a long shot, but perhaps Alfie is not as hurt as Murray makes him out to be.

If Alfredsson does not return in the short term, the Senators can start booking their end of year party. The Penguins have two of the three best players in the NHL with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and a genuine power-play quarterback in Sergei Gonchar.

On top of that, they have ample grit with Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque. The Senators simply cannot matchup with the Penguins except in two, key areas.

Gerber will have to shed his label as a guy who chokes under-pressure (he didn’t help himself by playing marginal down the stretch) and if he can manage to do that, he might give the Senators the edge in goaltending over a skilled but very green Fleury.

Meanwhile, Ray Emery sits and watches with a Stanley Cup run already under his belt and the cocky attitude that nearly every great goalie has possessed over the years. You couldn’t invent a weirder situation in sports. It’s unprecedented. Look for Emery to get in the net at some point because Gerber’s weaknesses could become too exposed when facing stars like Crosby and Malkin who absolutely feast on rebounds.

The other area is overall experience and the Senators have plenty of that. Even without Alfredsson and Fisher in the lineup, these players have seen and done everything. They’ve lost in every conceivable fashion over the years and somehow managed to bounce back and put it all together for one breathtaking run last year. There is not a crisis that this team hasn’t faced over the last 8 years, from ownership bankruptcy and missed paychecks to getting embarrassed by more experienced teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Now the Senators are the underdogs, but they have battle scars, something the baby-faced Penguins don’t have yet.

It would be a nice comeback story for the Senators but I just don’t see it happening.

Prediction: Penguins in 5 games.

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