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Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (14-7-0-28) vs. Ottawa Senators (9-6-3-21)

Where: Scotiabank Place
When:
Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Radio:
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, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh looks to improve to 2-0 in the season series against Ottawa after defeating the Senators, 4-1, on Oct. 12 at Scotiabank Place. The Penguins scored the final four goals that night, two from Tyler Kennedy and one each from Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal while Marc-Andre Fleury was superb in net with 30 saves. These two teams will meet in Pittsburgh on Dec. 23 and conclude the series at Mellon Arena on Jan. 28.

 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Fedotenko-Crosby-Malkin
Dupuis-Staal-Guerin
Cooke-Adams-(Talbot)
Bourque-Rupp-Godard

Defense
TBD-Guenin
Skoula-Lovejoy
Eaton-Engelland

Netminder
Fleury


Last Meeting: Oct. 12, 2009
PIT 4 - OTT 1
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
Pucks at Leclaire: Pascal Leclaire has no doubt been a huge upgrade in net for the Senators, but he is still prone to giving up the occasional bad goal. Since the return of Evgeni Malkin on Saturday, the Penguins have averaged 29.5 shots per game, much closer to the lofty totals they regularly reached prior to the recent injury rash. They need to continue that against the Senators. 

Avoid Retaliation:
Ottawa boasts a couple of the league’s best players at getting under the opposition’s skin. Chris Neil has always stirred the pot against Pittsburgh and Penguins fans know what Jarkko Ruutu brings to the table. The Penguins must avoid retaliating against these antics so not to give Ottawa a chance to revive their 23rd-ranked power play, especially with the Senators also struggling to score goals five-on-five.
 
LOWDOWN ON THE SENATORS
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 February 2 and below-average play between the pipes. Pittsburgh swept the Senators in four games two seasons ago in an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Ottawa appears to be back on track this season, as they currently sit second in the Northeast Division behind the Buffalo Sabres with 21 points.

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.
 
NEW FACES
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. Through the first 18 games he has one goal and two assists.

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 has two goal and two assists through 14 games. He missed the previous matchup with an upper-body injury. Regin 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 three assists and averages 17:25 of ice time playing nine games.
 
FORWARDS
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 22 career games against the Penguins, Spezza has 11 goals and 18 assists, with his 29 points the most he has scored against any non-divisional opponent. Spezza scored all three Senator 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 27 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. His nine goals lead Ottawa, while his 16 points (9G-7A) rank second behind Alfredsson. 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 teams with another former Penguin, Jarkko Ruutu, to provide Ottawa with physical, in-your-face agitation on the bottom two lines. Neil ranks second in the NHL with 76 hits through Wednesday. Ruutu has displayed a scoring touch for the Senators, scoring four times and assisting on five others in 18 games.    
 
DEFENSEMEN
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. 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 seven points (1G-6A) through 17 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. Campoli ranks second behind Picard among Senator defenders with six points (1G-5A).
 
GOALTENDING
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 has been the Senators go-to-man so far this season, posting a record of 7-5-1 to go with his 2.83 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. He has given the Senators a dependable workhorse in net, but he spoke recently about wanting to work on allowing less soft goals to remove some of the pressure on an offense not providing the consistent offense one would expect from such a talented group.

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 if Leclaire falters or gets injured again. He has posted the stronger numbers of the two, going 2-1-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: MILAN MICHALEK
Replacing a player of Dany Heatley’s caliber is never easy, but Ottawa was able to receive a budding all-around, power forward in return with Milan Michalek coming to Canada’s capital city. Through the first 18 games Michalek has been one of the Senators most consistent offensive contributors, scoring eight goals and three assists. Michalek scored Ottawa’s only goal against the Penguins in the previous meeting.

A physical specimen at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Michalek also possesses game-changing speed and shiftiness, allowing him to be a force at even strength, on the power play and during penalty kills. He is currently tied for the league lead with two shorthanded tallies. Already a three-time 20-plus goal scorer, Michalek recorded a hat trick against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 15.
 
INJURY UPDATE
Ottawa comes into this game with only one injury of note – albeit a major loss to their defense core.
- Physical Anton Volchenkov, who regularly gives the Penguins fits, has missed the past eight games with an injury to his right elbow and isn’t expected back until the latter half of November.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
“We liked our first 50 minutes of the game. We played our last 10 not to lose. You can’t have success like that, but we got the two points. We needed (Leclaire) and he was at his best.” 

– Cory Clouston crediting goaltender Pascal Leclaire for Ottawa’s 3-2 victory over Toronto on Tuesday night on Yahoo! Sports.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
9: Fighting majors for defenseman Matt Carkner, most in the NHL. 
 

Author: Jason Seidling

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