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Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (36-26-7-79) vs. Ottawa Senators (27-30-10-64)

Where: Mellon Arena
Saturday, March 14, 3 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 1-2-0 against the Senators this series. This will be the first matchup at Mellon Arena this season.



  Pens vs. Senators 12/6/08

Get the Lead: The Penguins have been able to start strong during their recent 7-0-1 surge. A strong start for the Pittsburgh will go a long way towards getting an eighth victory in nine games. The Senators are 1-25-2 when trailing after two periods. Getting the lead will be important for Pittsburgh.

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 78 of the team’s 171 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 limp 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.

Craig Hartsburg was hired in the offseason, a discipline, no-nonsense type of coach who had stints in Chicago and Anaheim. He was determined to renew character, accountability and a team-first attitude in the dressing room. Hartsburg was fired only 48 games into the season with the Senators boasting a 17-24-7 record. General manager Bryan Murray promoted Cory Clouston, coach of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, to replace Hartsburg. Ottawa has shown improvement under Clouston’s lead, going 10-6-3 since he’s taking over behind the bench.
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 bruiser blue liner Jason Smith, Ottawa native Brendan Bell, pesky forward Jarkko Ruutu and goaltender Alex Auld. At the trade deadline, Murray dealt forward Antione Vermette to Columbus for a second-round pick and goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
Leading the way for the Senators is the Pizza Line: Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson (sometimes known as the CASH line or Ash line). They are the top scorers on the team with captain Alfredsson, who is playing with a broken jaw, leading the way with 64 points on 21 goals and a team-best 43 assists. Heatley leads the club with 32 goals while chipping in 31 assists for 63 points. Spezza is third on the team in scoring with 57 points (25G-32A).

The downside to combining the trio is that team’s can focus all of its efforts on stopping one unit because the rest of the lines haven’t produced much offense. After the top three, Mike Fisher is the next highest scoring forward with 27 points (11G-16A). Ottawa is hoping one of its many prospects – Ilya Zubov, Jesse Winchester or Josh Hennessy – would step up and fill the scoring void. That hasn’t happened yet.
Ottawa is without three top-six defensemen from last year: Redden, Meszaros and Commodore. Chris Phillips, now the team’s most tenured defenseman, logs more minutes and shoulders more of the team’s leadership role. Anton Volchenkov led the league in blocked shits with 209 and is his 67 hits ranks seventh among defensemen in the league. This year he’s stopped 148 shots (ranking seventh) while collecting 158 hits.

Kuba is a veteran blue line presence and has provided some offensive punch with 30 points – fourth on the team – on two goals and 28 assists in 56 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.
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 Gerber was relegated to the backup role leading the team to waive him at the deadline.

The team has turned to Auld to carry the load for the team. He responded by posting a 2.56 goals against average and .908 save percentage. 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. However, the acquisition of Pascal Leclaire signals that Ottawa is moving in another direction.
Dany Heatley is one of the best pure goal scorers in the National Hockey League. He’s tallied 32 goals on the season. In his previous three seasons, Heatley netted 41, 50 and 50 goals. Heatley scored 41 goals in his second NHL season and has lit the lamp regularly ever since, totaling 253 goals in his career. He’s been very productive against Pittsburgh in his career with 19 goals and nine assists for 28 points in 24 career games against the Penguins.
“My focus doesn't change. Everyone looks at the big picture, but a coach looks at (Friday’s) practice. That's what we wanted to do. We're trying to get ready for (Saturday’s) game and that's really all we're looking at.”
- Head coach Cory Clouston told the team’s official website.

Ottawa is 1-25-2 when trailing after two periods.

Author: Sam Kasan

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