We had a Penguins fan give us his opinion this morning, so now it's time for a roundtable discussion of the playoff series that starts tomorrow. Read below and after the jump for our predictions on the performance of some key players, as well as our picks for who wins the series.
1) Who will lead the Senators in points in the playoffs?
Mark: My heart says Matt Cullen, but my head says Jason Spezza. Spezza is my pick, but I reserve the right to say "I told you so" if it turns out to be Cullen.
Ryan: Daniel Alfredsson. Why? He plays in every situation, from even strength to killing 5-on-3s. He led the team in power play points (31) and shorthanded points (4), and finished second in even-strength points (36). He's the glue that holds the Senators together. But the playoffs are unpredictable. Who would have thought that Mike Commodore would be tied for most points in the 07-08 playoffs?
Darren: I'm with Mark on this one. Jason Spezza has been flying since returning from that knee injury, and I think he's ready to elevate his game for the playoffs.
2) Will Leclaire make an appearance in the post-season?
Ryan: He will, if for no other reason than Cory Clouston's penchant for pulling goalies. In his tenure as head coach, Clouston pulled the goalie 15 times in 116 games: approximately 1 pull for every 8 games. If Elliott finds himself under siege, I wouldn't be shocked to see him yanked for Leclaire; the probability of Mike Fisher pegging him in the face with a puck notwithstanding.
Darren: He'll make an appearance because the Penguins will have at least one game where they score a disgusting number of goals, and Clouston will let Elliott take a breather for the rest of the game. Elliott won't be replaced as the number one, though.
Mark: Absolutely not. The only way he makes it in is an Elliott injury.
3) How does Erik Karlsson perform?
Mark: Shaky in game one, better the rest of the way. This might be reduced to shaky in the first period and better afterwards depending on how the game goes, but he's had debut jitters all year. He's really confident now, so they might go away quickly. No doubt he'll be our highest pointing defenseman. Hopefully he pinches a little smarter.
Ryan: Surprisingly well. Karlsson's been red hot as of late. About 12 hours after I chastised him for low goal totals because of poor decision-making with his shots, he went and scored two. The kid plays with poise (some might say too much) and is proving to be increasingly clutch. He'll be invaluable.
4) Prediction for the series' result?
Ryan: Ottawa has two shot blockers in the top ten in Anton Volchenkov (8th, 172 blocked shots) and Andy Sutton (2nd, 204). The Penguins top shot blocker? Jordan Leopold (29th, 138 blocked shots). The goaltending is surprisingly about par as the Senators have allowed two fewer goals than the Penguins, though you can't count out Marc-Andre Fleury in the postseason. It'll be a closer series than people think, but I think Ottawa comes out just barely on top. Sens in 7.
Darren: The Stanley Cup playoffs are where special teams separate the champs from the chumps, and I just don't see Ottawa fixing its middling powerplay any time soon, especially with two powerplay guys sitting out with injuries. It pains me to say it, but... Pens in 6.
Mark: The Penguins have been to the finals twice in the last two years and I genuinely believe that adds up. Ruutu-Kelly-Neil will rise to the challenge for this series, and I want to pick Ottawa because I believe they can win... but in the end, I don't trust Brian Elliott or Ottawa's road performance. Pens in 7.
5) Finally, would your answer to 4) be different with Filip Kuba and Alex Kovalev in the lineup?
Darren: Yes. I think with Kovalev and Kuba in the lineup that Ottawa might have been able to take the series. They would not only help the powerplay, but Kovalev would add a nice threat to shore up the secondary scoring.
Ryan: Kuba? No, because Phillips-Volchenkov and Sutton-Karlsson have been very solid, and Chris Campoli paired with Matt Carkner should be enough to fill out the bottom pairing. All bets are off if Brian Lee gets into the lineup. I'd still say Senators in 7 if Kovalev were healthy, but I think having his added offence would open up the scoring enough to make the games less close.
Mark: I don't believe Kuba matters much, but I think that Kovalev could have taken this team to the Eastern Conference Finals. They'd win this in 6 with Kovalev, but I don't see how Mike Fisher is going to have the same room to operate without Kovalev on his wing.