Wednesday, April 14, 2010

First Round Breakdown

Thinking of vintage Tragically Hip with Smalltown Bringdown when I wrote that post title...

Anyway, it isn't news to any of you that my predictions have the tendency to be completely wrong. I don't think I'm a hockey imbecile and actually feel comfortable with my knowledge of the game and our team. That being said, I've misunderstood the moves of our GM as he has put together a decent team right before our eyes. So it is with confusion, fear, uncertainty, and many other emotions that I give my breakdown of the Sens series versus the Penguins in some of the key areas.

1. Star Power
There is no questioning the talent of Crosby and Malkin - they are two of the most elite players in the world. On any given night, either of them can ruin your game. Case in point is the December 23rd loss to the Pens this year when Malkin potted three on Pascal. But if you put these guys toe-to-toe against our two stars, can they match up? Over the past two seasons, Alfie and Spezza combined to put up 5 goals and 9 assists for 14 points in the 8 games (Spezza missed one against Pitt this year). Crosby and Malkin put up 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points. I hate to say something outrageous, but if we're able to get Phillips and Volchenkov on the ice against the Kid, can you make the argument that our two stars CAN hang with their top two stars? I'm not talking talent here, I'm just talking about their success against a specific opponent, in this case being each other.

2. Forward Depth

I'll spare the sugar coating - we have more depth. Staal and Guerin each had 20+ goals? So did Fisher and Michalek. Foligno has had great success against the Penguins in the past, Regin is playing well on the top line, and Matt Cullen has come on as of late plus had a great Cup run in 2006. Chris Kelly, as bad as I find his hands, has also done well against the Penguins. Listen, I'm well aware of the resumes on the other side of the ice from those guys. But pardon me if I think our secondary scoring has a better chance of burying some big goals.

3. Defensive Depth
We all know what Gonchar brings to this series - a strong powerplay quarterback, a rich man's Kuba with the ability to score some key points. Letang and Orpik are also solid blueliners. I'm not terribly worried about Leopold or Eaton, and Goligoski is a better version of Campoli. My big question mark on our side is how Carkner and Campoli will do on the road, knowing that Bylsma is going to feed them a steady dose of Crosby or Malkin. Like I said in the last post, Murray had a way of hiding Corvo and Preissing three years ago and while Carkner is a better defensive player than either of those guys, we still need to be careful here. All this being said, I don't think either team has a distinct advantage on the blue line, unless we're really able to put Phillips/Volchenkov on the ice every time Crosby gets out there. Home games will obviously be great to watch for that reason.

4. Special Teams
Ready to have your mind blown? Our powerplay finished at a nice 22nd ranking in the league, clicking at 16.9%. This is the third worst of all playoff teams (thank you, Boston and Phoenix). But the shocker here is that the Penguins are only 19th in the league and only convert at a 17.2%. That caught me off guard. We're 8th in PK at 84.3% while they are right behind us in 9th at 84.1%. You heard it here - we're basically even on special teams.

5. Goaltending
If you can accept that star power isn't a massive edge for the Penguins and you went on to read about the forward depth, defensive depth, and special teams, then you might think we have a great chance in this series. If you still don't think we should hold our breath, then you'll probably point to goaltending. Fleury has 48 playoff games and a Cup ring, Elliott has an NCAA Championship and some great memories of playing street hockey. Seriously, though, our guy had better numbers in the regular season but he hopefully understands that he's entering an all new world here. He seems cool, calm, and collected and these traits will be tested if we walk out of the Burgh down 0-2. Goaltending, to me, is the wild card here because we just don't know what we'll get with Elliott. Will he make the required saves and be slightly above average like Emery was in 2007? Will he stand on his head and win us a series? Will he collapse before our eyes? Everything we know about him is that he's not flashy, not into grabbing attention, and makes some good, timely saves. If Elliott can avoid the 'big period' just like a pitcher avoids the big inning, we can make it through this. Fleury will stand on his head just because he's done it before.

Okay, looking in the face of jinxing our boys, I will say that I really can see us moving on to the second round. Since I'm insanely superstitious and I've already pointed out how bad my predictions are, I'll stop short of saying something crazy like Sens in 6. All I will do is say I think they have a good chance and imply how things might work out for the good guys.

In the meantime, GO SENS GO! Get off to a nice start in Steeltown and remind everyone that Alex Ponikarovsky is useless .


pynch said...

I remember two years ago, when Ottawa backed into the playoffs and had to take on a powerhouse Penguins club, how I came up with any rationalization possible to argue that Ottawa had a chance to win. Then we got swept away by the eventual Eastern Conference Champs. That year was such a disappointment, from locker room blow ups to coaching changes to an unheard drop in the standings - definitely a year to forget.

What I love about this year is I haven't thought much about why the Sens might win. I'm not concerned about head to head stats or recent goaltending performances. I'm not overly concerned about the lack of Kovy or Kuba. Rather, this Ottawa team is a club that can just win when they have their act together. It's real team and when all the pieces get going together, these guys can really make it happen.

I also feel just happy to be back in the playoffs. At the beginning of the year, most pundits wrote off the Sens before the season started. I remember laughing at predictions that the Leafs would finish ahead of us! Well, we've managed to surprise a lot of hockey "experts" this year and my guess is, we might just keep doing so.

This group will live and die with a team first attitude, which is so great as a fan. No matter what happens, it's been quite the season and I'm a proud Sens fan.

Looking forward to an awesome series! Like Duff, I'm not good at making predictions, but as a die hard fan I'm expecting us to make it past the first round.


tim said...

Victory is all about confidence and maintaining level-heads. Judging by the Bylsma quote on CBC, the sens have already gotten them jittery and confused:
"We need to get to our game against them playing their way as well. If we can ... that's the measure of a good team"

this series is in the bag.

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