Game 14 preview: Ottawa Senators @ Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby after finding out he has to play against Erik Karlsson again. - Justin K. Aller

A preview of the Ottawa Senators game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on 13 February 2013.

Forget the games against Toronto or Montréal, this is the game that gets my blood boiling. The Pittsburgh !@#$ing Penguins. The Penguins are led by their obnoxious captain who has shockingly yet to be suspended in his career, and with other dirt-bags on the roster such as Kris Letang (the one that knocked Spezza out in 2010-2011), Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Brooks Orpik, it is simply a roster that I just love to hate. I hate the Pittsburgh Penguins with all my heart.

Ahem, with that out of the way, let's get to the preview. The Senators won 2-0 at home to Buffalo last night, completing a four-game homestand with a 2-1-1 record. Patrick Wiercioch will be the healthy scratch and André Benoit will return to the lineup according to Sylvain St-Laurent. Craig Anderson will start again. Assuming the lines and pairings don't change here is what they might look like with Benoit:

Michalek - Zibanejad - Alfredsson
Greening - Turris - Silfverberg
Daugavins - Da Costa - O'Brien
Condra - Smith - Neil

Méthot - Karlsson
Gonchar - Lundin
Phillips - Benoit

Anderson (starter)
Bishop

My notes for tonight:

  • I don't know what is going on with Craig Anderson but he has stopped 95.6% of shots. Even while shorthanded, he has stopped 94.4% of the shots. That is unbelievable.
  • Erik Karlsson had another 9 shots last night to give him 62 for the season or 4.77 shots per game. Alexander Ovechkin is the only NHL player to average more shots per game (five times) since 2005-2006. Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque are the only defencemen to ever average more than 4.77 shots/game in a season.
  • Kyle Turris hasn't had more than two shots in a game in 11 straight games. He has four assists in five games though.
  • Sergei Gonchar played only a 1:17 less than Karlsson last night. Paul MacLean definitely does lean on him.
  • Ottawa's penalty kill is over 90% for the season. While the power play was 0 for 8 last night, I actually thought they were unlucky to not get a goal, twice hitting the post.
  • The Senators are 5-1-2 at home and 2-3-0 on the road. Not counting shootouts, Ottawa has outscored the opposition 21-11 at home and 12-11 on the road.

With that in mind, let's look at the match-ups for tonight. In the first meeting between the two clubs in Ottawa, Paul MacLean was at home and was able to get the match-ups he wanted. Playing a team like Pittsburgh on the road is a much tougher task. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Sidney Crosby saw Méthot/Karlsson for 75% of his 5-on-5 ice time and was held pointless and with three shots. MacLean wasn't as adamant about getting a specific forward line out against Crosby with Turris facing Crosby 44% of the time while Spezza was against Crosby 29% of the time.
  • Evgeni Malkin was primarily matched up against his good friend Sergei Gonchar, seeing him for 75% of his 5-on-5 ice time (including 68% while paired with Mark Borowiecki). Spezza saw Malkin 42% of the time while Turris faced him 22% of the time.
  • Thus, due to being home, Ottawa managed to get either Karlsson or Gonchar out against Crosby/Malkin 75% of the time and either the Spezza/Turris line about 70% of the time.
  • MacLean won't be able to shelter Chris Phillips tonight, and it will be a big ask of him to deal with Crosby and Malkin. Methot has stuck with Karlsson for the entire season, but would it be worth having Karlsson/Methot/Gonchar on three separate pairings tonight? Unlikely, but it is going to be some tough match-ups for the Senators tonight, especially if Phillips is with Benoit.
  • Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen will be game time decisions for the Penguins.

Our Dear Peter spoke with Hooks Orpik over at PensBurgh for another Q&A.

Dear Peter: How will the Penguins deal with the loss of Kris Letang? How long is he expected to be out for?
Hooks Orpik: Letang skated today for the first time, and practiced with Matt Niskanen as a partner. Niskanen got hurt the last time the Senators and Pens played two and a half weeks ago. Both might be about a week away from returning, but I wouldn't expect either, based on practice pairings today. The Pens strategy has been to match Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin against the other team's best offensive line and then just roll the other two pairs (Simon Despres and Deryk Engelland then Dylan Reese and Robert Bortuzzo) and just hope for the best.

Dear Peter: What happened in the weekend's games against New Jersey? Was it a temporary setback, or cause for concern?
Hooks Orpik: I think it's a cause for real concen. Without Letang and Niskanen (the top two mobile, puck-moving defensemen on the team, Pittsburgh has had trouble just starting their breakouts. The Devils were able to seal up the walls (where the Pens like their D to pass out of the zone) and then Jersey pinned Pittsburgh in their own zone, getting more cycling and chances against. It wasn't very pretty for a team like the Pens, who are used to quick passes from defense to forwards who then can skate/dump the puck into the other team's zone. If Ottawa studies the tape, and I'm sure they will, they'll see a very easy to follow blueprint by NJD on how to disrupt the Pens at even strength and probably lead to more possession and zone time and penalties against Pittsburgh, if the Pens aren't careful and don't adjust themselves.


Dear Peter: Pittsburgh's the second-best offensive team in the East right now. Is the offence coming from throughout the lineup, or a specific line?
Hooks Orpik: The offense really just boils down to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. Chris Kunitz has had a few good games, mostly the result of Crosby setting the table for him. Malkin and Neal have an extremely good chemistry and are dangerous every shift out. Third line members Matt Cooke (all 4 of his points this season have come in last 5 games) and Brandon Sutter (5 points in last 6 games) have found some offense lately, but really when the Penguins score a goal it almost certainly had something to do with #87 and/or #71 figuring in on the play. It's risky to be reliant on the stars to provide so much of the offensive burden, but obviously the Pens are lucky that they have two of the top players that can come through and produce on most nights.
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