You're no doubt tired of reading a bunch of biased ramblings from Senators fans, so we decided to offer our readers something completely different -- a bunch of biased ramblings from a Penguins fan! Hooks Orpik writes at our SB Nation affiliate site Pensburgh, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. Enjoy!
Hooks: Because they're the two time defending Eastern Conference champs who know who to win this time of year, and expect to win this time of year. The Penguins are deeper and better at forward, defense and in goal than the Sens are on paper. Pittsburgh has better and more skill players, tougher grinders and, simply ought to be the better team. Factor in the home-ice advantage (where the Pens are 18-3 in the playoffs since 2008) and the scales are tipped to the Pens. Games, of course, aren't played on paper though.
2) Why will the Pittsburgh Penguins lose this playoff series?
Because Gary Roberts isn't around to torment Ottawa anymore. Kidding. Kind of. The Senators need Anton Volchenkov/Chris Phillips to absolutely shutdown Sidney Crosby, and hope that the clock hasn't struck midnight on Brian Elliott's pumpkin-turned-chariot. Ottawa probably needs guys like Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly to step up and not only play well but to chip in a few goals too. The knock on the Penguins all season long has been consistency, especially defensively. Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza will create their chances, but will they beat Marc-Andre Fleury? If they do, especially early in the series, and Elliott plays his heart out, the balance may just tip to Ottawa.
3) We know all about the skill of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Staal, but which unheralded player should the Senators watch out for?
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Tyler Kennedy has 5 goals (but 0 assists) in five games that he's played against Ottawa, including 2 game-winners. TK seems to find all the holes in Ottawa's defense and has found a way to make them pay. He's a very "trigger-happy" player that likes to shoot the puck when he gets the chance, and even though he doesn't get any time on the PP, watch out for him anyways.
To throw out another name: Pascal Dupuis has arguably been the Pens best non-star forward since the Olympic break. He's fast, he works hard and he'll create chances. He doesn't always have the hands to finish the opportunities, but he'll be a Top 6 guy, and if he produces points it will be a very good sign for Pittsburgh's success this post-season.
4) Aside from the obvious Stanley Cup championship, what has changed most about the Penguins since the teams last met in the playoffs?
The general maturity level. The Pens were young but untested entering the 1st round of the 2008 playoffs, and their core (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury, Orpik, Letang, Gonchar, Talbot and Kennedy) has a lot more experience, and obviously success. When the Pens first played Ottawa in '07 they were humbled by frankly a better team that knew what they were doing. Now there can be no doubt that Pittsburgh knows what it takes to be successful this time of year, whereas the Sens obviously haven't been back since getting swept in '08.
Personnel changes have been made, guys have come and gone for both teams. It's no secret that Pittsburgh is built down the middle with Crosby-Malkin-Staal but they arguably are as deep as they ever have been with guys Chris Kunitz (effective when not injured), Bill Guerin (a 20 goal scorer) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (who hasn't stood out since being acquired last month) on the wings. Likewise defensively they are deep with good players, if not having any elite or "shutdown" players.
On top of all of that, after the first round of 2008, Marc-Andre Fleury's career playoff record was 5-4 (all coming against Ottawa). He's 26-14 since then, which is a lot of wins and a lot of games under his belt. The maturity and experience makes this version of the Penguins, from top to bottom, a completely different team from what Ottawa saw the last time around.
5) Final prediction for the series?
If someone predicts a 5 game series it doesn't really seem to honor the other team, as if you're only good enough to take one game. But I honestly, with no disrespect intended, will call Penguins in 5. Hey, they swept Ottawa last time with Crosby on one ankle, and Malkin, Staal and Fleury are only better than two years ago. Sorry, Elliott, but the clock's hit midnight and the defending champions are about to hit their stride.
Our thanks to Hooks for his time, and be sure to check out Pensburgh for additional coverage on the upcoming playoff series. We'll have our own opinions up today at 4pm EST.