Thursday, May 16, 2013
Goal-Challenged Sens Need To Get Flyers Ugly To Beat Pens
The Penguins are good. But you already knew that.
You have to go back to the 2002 Detroit Red Wings to find a similar collection of superstars all playing together in the same sweater. When Jarome Iginla and Sidney Crosby have a sub-par night and the Penguins still beat you 4-1, you’re going to have problems beating them four times in seven games.
Forgive me for being a tad fatalistic, but this reminds me a little of the old Winnipeg Jets when they were stuck in the same division as the Edmonton Oilers. The lost to Edmonton in the playoffs 6 times from 1983-1990, and that was a Jets team that had Dale Hawerchuk and a strong supporting cast of players that could have done a lot of damage if they played in any other division.
This is Ottawa’s fourth crack at the Penguins since 2007 and they have a respectable 1-2 series record, considering the upheaval Ottawa has been going through as the Penguins rose to dominance with Crosby and Malkin. Right now, things don’t look good for the Senators to even up that record but the same format that doomed the Jets will now work in Ottawa’s favour starting next year.
The switch to a divisional playoff format will be a boon to the Senators. Starting next season, Ottawa’s division will consist of Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, Florida and Tampa Bay. With apologies to Toronto fans, there’s not one team in that grouping that have the makings of a dominant power on the rise... other than Ottawa.
There are good teams with a bright future, like the Leafs and the Habs, a few teams like Boston and Detroit that are on a slow decline, and the rest are big question marks. It’s only Ottawa that has two number-one goalies, a Norris Trophy winner who hasn’t even hit his prime yet, and a crew of elite prospects that are the envy of the rest of the league. There won’t be a first or second round series that will seem unwinnable, even for Toronto fans who will likely be traumatized for a few more years.
All of which probably leads you to believe that I’m saying the Penguins are unbeatable right now and Ottawa has no chance, so “let’s wait for next season”.
Not really. I think Pittsburgh can be toppled – and the Islanders came close – but Ottawa is going to have to drastically improve offensively for it to happen. And they won’t be able to sacrifice what got them here in the first place, namely toughness, penalty-killing and great goaltending.
That’s going to be hard to do against a team that can score enough to cover up all their defensive mistakes. Just like the 80’s Edmonton Oilers who almost put every Winnipeg Jets coach in the nuthouse permanently.
Right now the best way of gaining some ground seems to be through the rattling of Tomas Vokoun but there’s no indication that’s going to happen anytime soon. He was strong coming in for poor bewildered Marc-Andre Fleury in the Islanders series and was solid in Game One against the Senators. For Ottawa to win this thing, it’s going to be by breaking the law a little, and Chris Neil will be at the centre of that.
Taking too many penalties will kill you against the Pens but the Senators will have to walk the line with the refs and cause mayhem for this Pittsburgh team to come unglued. They’re not going to beat them with their power-play, but they might have a chance by winning every other battle. All Ottawa has to do is look to the Flyers. The biggest pain for the Penguins has always been Philadelphia, who go out of their way to try and bully the Pens. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But the fact that it works some of the time is enough, especially when you simply can’t compete offensively. Erik Karlsson is at half-speed. Jason Spezza may not be healthy enough to play. What else are you going to do?
This series doesn’t get truly out of reach until Ottawa loses at home. Even if they drop Game Two, it will be interesting to see how they respond in their own rink.
But it does seem like a bit of a letdown in atmosphere after that Montreal series, doesn’t it? It felt like that for me leading up to the game and in my feelings towards it after as well. The test for the coaching staff will be to get that first-round adrenalin going again for the players. The test for me will be to get that feeling back through beer.
Maybe somebody needs to get hit... and hit hard... for Ottawa to spring back to life. Keep your eyes on Neil.