Friday Four: Senators shutting down Penguins
NHL Network's Kevin Weekes also discusses Western Conference Final between Predators, Ducksby Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst
Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
Guy Boucher has done a great coaching job and has put a great framework in place for the Senators. They have forced the Pittsburgh Penguins into less-than-ideal offensive options throughout the entire series. Erik Karlsson is obviously their No. 1 player, but Dion Phaneuf has done a great job on the second defensive pairing. Ottawa is playing physical, and that has really gotten the Penguins off their game.
Bobby Ryan has been great all through the playoffs. He's scored three game-winning goals, including two in overtime. The Senators have goals from 14 different players, and offense by committee is exactly what you need in the playoffs. Also, let's not forget the play of goaltender Craig Anderson, who has allowed three goals in three games against the Penguins.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Ryan roofs game-winning goal in OT
The Penguins have dealt with injuries throughout the season and during the postseason, and it's been noticeable at times. In addition to defenseman Kris Letang, who's out for the playoffs, defenseman Justin Schultz and forwards Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist weren't in the lineup for Game 3 when Ottawa dominated from the start in a 5-1 win to take a 2-1 series lead. Despite the fact that Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the first period and replaced by Matt Murray, I expect Fleury to start in Game 4.
Pittsburgh has passed up too many shooting opportunities. You can't always look for the perfect shot, especially when it's been hard for them to generate much offense. True, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel have been great, but Ottawa has limited Sidney Crosby to one goal in the series. Prior to that goal in Game 3, Crosby went seven games without a goal.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm2: Kessel rips wrister past Anderson
The defense has been excellent for the Ducks. Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm, and even the young guys like Shea Theodore and Josh Manson have stepped up. But the Ducks got a lift in Game 4 against the Nashville Predators on Thursday when Kevin Bieksa returned. He played 19:34 and was very noticeable. John Gibson made 32 saves in the 3-2 overtime win that evened the series at 2-2.
The Ducks knew they needed to win on Thursday and played like it, outshooting the Nashville Predators 14-2 in the first period and taking a 1-0 lead. Rickard Rakell scored in the first period and has seven goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the rare instance in which Ryan Getzlaf was unable to find the scoresheet, Rackell did his job.
Video: ANA@NSH, Gm4: Rakell cranks a slapper past Rinne
Although the Predators weren't as good in Game 4 with their overall team game, they showed how dangerous they can be, scoring twice in the final 6 ½ minutes to tie the game. We know how good their defense has been, offensively and defensively, with Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis leading the way.
Forwards Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have played as well in the playoffs as they did during the regular season. Center Ryan Johansen has a goal and three assists in the series but has to get more shots on goal. He has two shots in the past three games combined. Nashville lost for the first time at home this postseason and was 0-for-5 on the power play. In the series, they are 1-for-17.