SERIES PREVIEW: 2013 Pens-Sens

 
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Down the homestretch of the regular season, it was looking more and more likely that the Senators were gonna find themselves in the 8 seed on a collision course with the Pens. Instead, the Sens got up to the 7 seed and have dispatched of the 2nd-seeded Canadiens easily — very easily. And that's because the Senators weren't as advertised coming in the playoffs. They aren't your typical 7 seed, just like the Islanders weren't your typical 8 seed.
 
And that all boils down to Erik Karlsson. He's the game-changer for the Senators, and Ottawa coach Paul MacLean probably has the Jack Adams Award on lockdown for keeping the Senators above water long enough to sneak into the playoffs without Karlsson. But now they're in the playoffs, Erik Karlsson is back, and his presence alone makes that "7 seed" title meaningless. If he's the game-changer he's advertised to be, he's probably good for a couple of wins. Those extra wins for the Senators while Karlsson was rehabbing his Achilles injury could've jumped the Senators all the way up to the 2 seed.
 
There's a lot of chatter about the Senators being a better matchup for the Pens than the Islanders were. That's all poop talk. By definition, having a surefire Jack Adams nominee behind your bench means your team is well-coached. If the Pens are routinely careless with the puck and make the same mistakes they did in the first round against the Isles, the Senators will capitalize.
 
We aren't predicting the outcome of this series, but here's some more info:
 

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Here are some Senators stats to think about:

-The Sens scored 112 goals this season. 112. That was the fourth-lowest total in the NHL and the lowest of all the playoff teams. What's also interesting is they had 7 empty-net goals among those 112, which was the highest percentage of empty-net goals that made up a team's overall goal total.

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-You've probably already made the connection that if the Sens didn't score much, then they probably didn't give up many goals, either. And that's 100% correct. They gave up the second-least amount of goals during the regular season.

-By all accounts, the Sens really have trouble scoring goals. That observation is supported even more by the fact that they averaged 33.1 shots per game during the regular season, the most in the NHL.

-On the flip side, they surrendered 31.3 shots per game, 8th-most in the NHL. Looks like they are big fans of a fast-paced up-and-down game, which will seemingly be to the Pens advantage if they can get pucks past Anderson. That's a huge "if."

 

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Biggest Matchup

Penguins offense vs. Craig Anderson

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This is where the series will be won or lost, whether the goals come at even strength or on special teams. With all the fire drills going on in the Pens' defensive zone and between the pipes in the Isles series, the one constant was the offense. If it goes away, the series could become a shitfest.

Villain in waiting

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Daniel Alfredsson will be a presence all series. The Sens also have some speedy forwards who scored by committee in their first-round series against Montreal. They've gotten goals from 9 different forwards. But you'll know every time Chris Neil is on the ice.

We'll mention here that the Pens have gotten goals from 10 different forwards.

WILD CARD

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Jason Spezza has been out for a majority of the season. There's some gamesmanship going on from the Sens' organization, with them saying that he's nowhere close to returning, and yet he practiced with the team recently. If he comes back at some point in the series and is Jason Spezza, then all bets are off.

 

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Biggest Matchup

Penguins vs. Themselves

We're not gonna harp on how much the Pens' D helped out the Isles in the first round because we all know and saw what happened. We'll know 5 minutes into Game One if the Sens' coaching staff has taken notes from the Isles. Our prediction: yes, they have taken notes.

Best matchup for the Penguins

Advanced stats show how bad Gonchar has been in the playoffs thus far. Judging by Ottawa's series against Montreal, Eric Gryba and Chris Phillips are the shutdown pair.
 
When you see Jared Cowen or Gonch on the ice, you know the Pens have a matchup advantage, or at least they better.
 

Villain in waiting

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It's the elephant in the room: Matt Cooke's skate accidentally slicing Karlsson's Achilles tendon earlier this season. The fact it was accidental makes it meaningless to us, regardless of the media driving the storyline into the ground. Karlsson has played it cool through the whole thing, but you know he's itching to silence CONSOL. Nice hat, man.

 

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Anderson's stats in the five-game Montreal series:

4-1
1.80 GAA
.950 SV%
 

Anderson's stats In three games vs. the Pens this year:

0-2-1 (shootout loss)
2.66 GAA
.904 SV%

About that shootout loss… A recent column from Dejan mentioned how the Pens feel the book is out on Anderson, that he doesn't do so hot against left-handed shooters. The shooters in that shootout were Neal, Crosby, and Malkin. They went 3 for 3.

Interesting fact: In 2007-2008 and 2008-09, Craig Anderson was Tomas Vokoun's backup in Florida.

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Speaking of which…

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We don't care who plays in net for the Pens. Just can't let in soft goals.

 

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The more we've seen, the more we've realized that overall special-teams matchups are meaningless. All that matters is how the four units involved match up against one another. The fact that Karlsson (and maybe Spezza) will be new additions to both of the Sens' units, it's useless to look at the Pens and Sens head-to-head this season.

Screw it. We looked up the stats from the three Pens-Sens games this season:

Pens PP: 1 for 15 ( balls% )
Pens PK: 11 for 12 ( 91.6% )
 
It could be bad news bears if the Pens' PP clicks at balls% in this series.

As far as the Sens' PP is concerned, we are focused on the return of one of our most-favorite Penguins of all time:

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Sucks. He went toe to toe with Michel Therrien in a war of words in the first round. Bylsma doesn't have a history of chirping opposing coaches.

Summary

We're out of the prediction game. This series will boil down to the goaltending. Can the Pens break Craig Anderson? Will the Pens get consistent goaltending?

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PREDICTION

No one will set their house on fire.

 

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