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Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (15-6-4-34) at Ottawa Senators (9-10-4-22)

Where: Scotiabank Place
When: Saturday, December 6, 2:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh and CBC (National broadcast in Canada)
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 1-1-0 against the Senators. It will be the Penguins first appearance it Ottawa. The two clubs played two games in Stockholm, Sweden, as part of the NHL Premiere. The Penguins won the first game, 4-3, in overtime and dropped the second game, 3-1.



  Penguins vs. Senators 10/5
Test Auld: Senators goaltender Alex Auld struggled the past few seasons following his trade from Vancouver. He’s provided some much needed stability in goal for Ottawa but hasn’t gotten much help this year from Ottawa’s offense. Pittsburgh should test him early and often.

Crash the Net: The Senators signed tough-guy blue liner Jason Smith to clear people from in front of the crease. It has been an issue Ottawa has struggled with for many years, particularly now with the new rules. The Penguins can cause a lot of havoc for Auld and shouldn’t hesitate to generate traffic by the crease.

Eat Pizza: Ottawa has put all its eggs in the Pizza Line basket. The Penguins can concentrate its defensive efforts on shutting down the Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson tandem. The trio has scored half (28) of the team’s 56 goals this season. They will be Ottawa’s best hope for a win.
Two years ago, Ottawa played for the Stanley Cup. Last season they were the hottest team at the beginning of the year with a 10-1-0 start. With its 27-10-4 record through the first half of the season, Ottawa looked destined for another championship run…and then the bottom fell out. The Senators went 16-21-4 to close out the season and limped into the playoffs. Pittsburgh got a little revenge for the previous year by ousting the Senators in four games and both head coach John Paddock and goaltender Ray Emery, once a rising star, were both out of work.

Enter Craig Hartsburg: a discipline, no-nonsense type of coach who has had stints in Chicago and Anaheim. He was determined to renew character, accountability and a team-first attitude in the dressing room. Ottawa has been streaky this year. They openened the season with a 2-1-1 record (including 1-0-1 against Pittsburgh in the NHL Premiere) and then lost four straight games. They followed that up with a 4-0-1 streak before going winless in six (0-4-2). It’s been a bumpy ride thus far for the Sens faithful.
The two biggest losses were on the blue line for Ottawa. The Senators let long-time Senator Wade Redden walk after general manager Bryan Murray couldn’t afford his price tag. Then, unable to come to terms with youngster Andrej Meszaros, Murray traded him to Tampa Bay for defensemen Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard. Gone also are Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore. Murray signed bruising blue liner Jason Smith, Ottawa native Brendan Bell, pesky forward Jarkko Ruutu and goaltender Alex Auld.
Leading the way for Senators is the Pizza Line: Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson (sometimes known as the CASH line or Ash line). The trio each netted a goal in Ottawa’s 5-1 victory over Atlanta on Wednesday. They are the top scorers on the team with Heatley (13-12-25) leading the way, followed by Alfredsson (7-16-23) and Spezza (8-10-18). Hartsburg originally planned on splitting the unit to add more scoring depth but has recently reunited them to jumpstart the team’s offensive production. When combined, they are one of the best lines in the league.

The downside to combining them is that opponent’s can focus all of its efforts on stopping the top unit because the rest of the lines haven’t produced much offense. After the top three, Mike Fisher and Ruutu are next in scoring with just eight points this season. Ottawa is hoping one of its many prospects – Ilya Zubov, Jesse Winchester or Josh Hennessy – would step up and fill that void. That hasn’t happened yet. The team has even moved defenseman Christoph Schubert to wing to shake things up.
Ottawa is without three top-six defensemen from last year: Redden, Meszaros and Commodore. Chris Phillips, now the team’s most tenured defenseman, will log more minutes and shoulder more of the team’s leadership role. Anton Volchenkov led the league in blocked shots with 209 and his 67 hits rank seventh among defensemen in the league.

Kuba is a veteran blue line presence and has provided some offensive punch with 18 points (1G-17A) – tied for third on the team – in 23 games this season. Picard is young with a lot of promise. Smith is a physical presence that clears the front of the net. 25-year-old Ottawa native Brendan Bell, former captain of the Ottawa 67s, signed with the team following stops in Toronto and Phoenix. He scored a power-play goal in his only game against Pittsburgh.
With Emery’s departure, the team turned to Martin Gerber to be THE man in goal. Gerber has had difficulty in his career at handling the No. 1 goaltender duties. The Carolina Hurricanes wanted him as their top backstop and traded for him. He lost the starting job to Cam Ward. Then Ottawa signed him to be its starter until he lost the gig to Emery. Gerber was once again expected to be the leader in goal this season and was given a chance to cement his spot early with five starts in the first six games of the year. However, once again he has been relegated to the backup role. Gerber has made only one start in the past 17 games for the Senators.

The team has turned to Auld to carry the load. He responded by posting an impressive goals against average (1.96) and save percentage (.927). Auld burst onto the scene in Vancouver with a 33-26-6 record for the Canucks in 2005-06. He was traded to Florida in the deal that brought Roberto Luongo to Vancouver. Auld lost the Panthers gig to Ed Belfour and was a backup last year in Phoenix and Boston. He is getting a chance to show that he deserves a starting job and so far, he’s earned it.
Daniel Alfredsson has been everything to the Ottawa franchise almost since its inception. The Swedish-born Alfredsson has spent 13 seasons as a Senator and has been the team’s captain since 1999. He’s been nearly a point-per-game player with 870 points (338G-532A) in 875 games. Alfredsson is second on the team with 23 points in 22 games this season. In his career against Pittsburgh, Alfredsson has 18 goals and 32 assists for 50 points in 49 games. He captained the Senators to two Stanley Cup appearances and led Sweden to an Olympic gold medal three years ago. Alfredsson is a true leaders and contributor, not to mention an icon in Ottawa.
“If you give them odd-man rushes, you can pretty much turn around and pull the puck out of the net because they're so good.”
- Daniel Alfredsson told the Senators' official website
The Pizza Line (Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson) got its nickname from a pizza chain promotion that kicks in when Ottawa scores five goals in a game. The barometer was subsequently raised to six goals.

Author: Sam Kasan

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