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Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (4-1-0-8) vs. Ottawa Senators (3-1-0-6)

Where: Scotiabank Place
Monday, October 12, 7:30 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Ottawa exacted revenge in 2008-09 for the Penguins sweeping the Senators in the opening round of the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by winning three of the four games played between the two teams, including a 4-3 shootout victory on March 14 at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh and Ottawa opened last season playing twice in the NHL Premiere in Stockholm, Sweden, with the Penguins securing the 4-3 win (Oct. 4) on opening night courtesy of a Tyler Kennedy overtime tally, while the Senators rebounded to defeat the Penguins, 3-1, one night later.




Game Highlights
AP Recap

Continue Power Play Success: The Penguins received more power plays for than against for the first time this season when they had five versus Toronto on Saturday night. An increase in opportunities led to the Penguins scoring a season-high three times with the man advantage. Scoring won’t come that easy against the Senators as Ottawa brings the league’s seventh-best goals-against mark into the game, allowing only 2.5 goals on average through four games. A power-play tally could be the difference in a game between teams that played three one-goal games against one another in 2008-09.  

Keep Ottawa’s Second Line Struggling:
As they have for the better part of this decade, the Senators’ forward unit contains some of the best collection of skill and production in the league. However, through the first four games, their top-line players haven’t consistently produced as such, none more so than the second line of Nick Foligno, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza. The trio has combined for two assists in four games. Keeping this line off the score sheet will continue to keep Ottawa’s offense struggling, despite the four goals scored in their win over Atlanta on Saturday night.
Just two years after making a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, Ottawa suffered through a disappointing campaign in 2008-09, winning only 36 games while slipping to fourth place in the Northeast Division, and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96. The Senators had many problems, including the dismissal of head coach Craig Hartsburg on Feb. 2 and below-average play between the pipes.

Ottawa began to turn their season around when Cory Clouston came up from the team’s minor-league affiliate, Binghamton of the American Hockey League, to replace Hartsburg. In 34 games under Clouston, who favors the new-school, high-tempo philosophy preferred by a lot of the newer bench bosses around the National Hockey League, the Senators posted a 19-11-4 overall record, which projected over an 82-game schedule, would have given them 101 points – a figure that would have been good enough for fourth place in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09.
Ottawa elected not to make drastic changes after suffering through their most disappointing season this decade. Instead, the only free agent of note they brought it was former Penguin Alex Kovalev. The enigmatic winger, who won the MVP award at the 2009 NHL All-Star Game playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin, brings 941 career points (394G-547A) and a howitzer left-handed shot to the Senators’ lineup.

Dany Heatley’s insistence on leaving Canada’s capital city brought two exciting finishers to the attack in Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo from the San Jose Sharks. Michalek spent a majority of last season playing with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, with whom the 24-year-old scored 23 goals and 34 assists in 77 contests. Cheechoo has seen his production slip three-straight seasons after winning the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals with 56 in 2005-06. Cheechoo lit the lamp only 12 times in 66 games for the Sharks last season.

A couple of youngsters will add youth and skill to the Senators’ lineup as forward Peter Regin and defenseman Erik Karlsson take regular shifts at the NHL level for the first time. Regin, who left Saturday night’s game early with an unspecified upper-body injury, is tied with Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Fisher for the team lead with two goals. He had a cup of coffee with Ottawa last season, scoring two points (1G-1A) in 11 games, but starred for Binghamton, scoring 18 times and assisting on 29 others while posting a plus-15 mark in 56 games. Karlsson, only 19, was the Senators first-round selection in 2008. The Swedish-born defenseman brings offensive flair, but still needs to round out his defensive game. He has one assist and a minus-1 rating through his first four games.
As it has for the past 13 seasons, the Senators offense begins with Daniel Alfredsson. The Ottawa captain once again led the Senators in scoring in 2008-09, reaching the 70-point mark for the eighth-straight season. Alfredsson finished with 74 points (24G-50A), one more than Jason Spezza. Often streaky, Spezza, who can handle the puck on par with anybody in the NHL, has feasted on Pittsburgh throughout his career. In 21 career games against the Penguins, Spezza has 11 goals and 17 assists, with his 28 points the most he has scored against any non-divisional opponent. Spezza scored all three Senators’ goals in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 of last season.

Second-line center Mike Fisher is another player who likes seeing the Penguins come to town. His 12 points in 26 career games aren’t gaudy, but Fisher always seems to contribute big goals, and his defensive prowess has been a key in containing Sidney Crosby to only two goals and an average of less than a point-per-game against the Senators. Third-line center Chris Kelly is one of the league’s better shutdown pivots, giving them two players of such an ilk to match against Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Chris Neil is tied for second in the league with 19 hits through four games, and teams with another former Penguin, Jarkko Ruutu, to provide Ottawa with physical, in-your-face agitation on the bottom two lines. 
Veterans Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips have had many great battles with Crosby, Malkin and the rest of the Penguins’ skilled forwards since the end of the lockout. Both offer stay-at-home presences along the back end, although each offer above-average offensive instincts. Phillips is the more highly regarded of the two being a former No. 1-overall selection by Ottawa in 1996. He took a few years to grow into his 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame, but has now developed into a rock for the Senators, playing 81 or more games four of the past five seasons.

Volchenkov is regularly among the league leaders in hits when all is said and done. With 14 through the first four games, his name is up there again in that category. Powerfully built within his 6-foot-1 stature, Volchenkov is one of the league’s most underrated defensive defensemen. Young Alexandre Picard, who arrived last season in the Andrej Meszaros deal with Tampa Bay, is the Senators’ best offensive defenseman, as he leads the way with three assists through four games. Solid Chris Campoli, 25, was acquired from the Islanders at the trade deadline. He is an emerging two-way defender who put up 13 points (5G-8A) in 25 games with the Senators at the end of last season.
After below-average play the past two seasons in goal, Ottawa went out at the trading deadline last year and sent forward Antoine Vermette packing to Columbus in exchange for netminder Pascal Leclaire. Leclaire starred for the Blue Jackets in 2007-08, posting a career-low 2.25 goals-against average, finishing second in the NHL with nine shutouts, and setting a then-Columbus record with 24 victories. The emergence of eventual Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason and a desire to use their depth in the crease to acquire much-needed goal scoring made Leclaire expendable to the Jackets.

Leclaire played in only 12 games for Columbus last season, finishing 4-6-1 with a 3.83 GAA and an .867 save percentage. He did not appear in a game for Ottawa after the trade because of ankle surgery at the end of January. Another youngster, Brian Elliott, will provide Leclaire competition. Elliott was Ottawa’s go-to-guy down the stretch last season, winning 16 of his 27 decisions, with a 2.77 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Elliott is more than capable of filling in for Leclaire or carrying the load.
Montreal fans were not happy their Canadiens elected to part ways with Kovalev during their offseason makeover. Ottawa was more than happy to pick up the veteran sniper to provide secondary scoring to a team that stumbled out of the gate in 2008-09. Kovalev has started out slow in the early going, not picking up his first point until scoring a goal in the Senators’ 4-2 win over Atlanta Saturday night.

Kovalev, who needs 58 points to reach 1,000 for his career, offers Ottawa the flexibility to use him on the point or along the side boards on a power-play unit with the firepower to be deadly. Almost impossible to defend when he gets on one of his patented hot streaks, Kovalev had his best offensive season with the Penguins in 2000-01, when he carried the offense early in the year before Mario Lemieux returned from retirement and Jaromir Jagr struggled out of the gate, scoring 95 points on 44 goals and 51 assists.  
“It’s a nice feeling in the dressing room to get contributions from everybody. When everybody is involved, it creates energy and it’s just a really good situation to have. We’re fortunate the third and fourth lines have gotten some dirty goals and given us momentum.” 

- Senators head coach Cory Clouston praising the efforts of his lineup to the Ottawa Sun after their 4-2 victory over Atlanta on Saturday raised their record to 3-1-0 on the season.

1.01: Alex Kovalev’s point-per-game total in 345 games with the Penguins (149G+198A=347 points). In 810 games with the Rangers, Canadiens and Senators, Kovalev has scored 595 career points for an average of 0.74 points-per-game, 0.27 less on average than during his time in Pittsburgh.

Author: Jason Seidling

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