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Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (25-11-1-51) vs. Ottawa Senators (18-14-4-40)
Where: Mellon Arena

When:
Wednesday, December 23, 7 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.
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View FSN's Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
Pittsburgh and Ottawa split the first two games of the season series at Scotiabank Place. The final two games will take place at Mellon Arena, with the Penguins also hosting the Senators on Jan. 28. Pittsburgh won the first meeting, 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. Ottawa came back to defeat the Penguins, 6-2, on Nov. 19 behind two goals from Chris Phillips and a three-assist night by Mike Fisher.

 
PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES RELATED CONTENT
Forwards
Fedotenko-Crosby-Dupuis
Kunitz-Malkin-Guerin
Cooke-Staal-Kennedy
Rupp-Adams-Talbot

Defense
Gonchar-Orpik
Skoula-Letang
McKee-Goligoski

Netminder
Fleury


Last Meeting: Nov. 19, 2009
  OTT 6 - PIT 2
Game Highlights
AP Recap
 
KEY TO VICTORY
Mark the Points: Ottawa has a great collection of talent in their forward ranks but it was three goals from their defensemen which helped break open a close game on Nov. 19. Matt Carkner erased Jordan Staal’s first-period goal and Chris Phillips struck twice in the third period to turn a 3-1 Ottawa lead into a comfortable 5-1 advantage. Throw in Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard and the Senators have the offensive flair from the blue line to make up for some of their struggling forwards. 

Crash the Net:
Pascal Leclaire will be returning to the net for the first time in 16 games so it will be imperative for the Penguins to make his return an unpleasant experience. Because it has been so long since he’s seen game action he might be prone to giving up juicy rebounds or struggle to find the puck through traffic. The Penguins need to get bodies at the top of his crease and find these answers out firsthand.
 
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 is back playing at the level fans in Canada’s capitol city have grown accustomed to seeing as their 40 points has them tied with the Atlanta Thrashers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference prior to Tuesday’s games.

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. Kovalev’s offensive numbers (7G-13A) are down, but his 20 points still rank fourth on the team.

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. His offensive production has picked up of late as he now has three goals and nine points on the 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 has three goals and five assists through 30 games. He is currently playing left wing on the second line following a knee injury to Jason Spezza. 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 six points (1G-5A) and averages 18:31 of ice time in 22 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. Although he leads the squad in assists (22) and points (31), Alfredsson is currently mired in a career-worst 12-game goalless string. Before tearing his MCL earlier this month Spezza was off to a slow start with 19 points (5G-14A) in 30 games. The two-time 90-point scorer will be out of the lineup until after the Olympic break, eliminating one of the game’s premier playmakers from the Senators’ attack.

Milan Michalek has been everything he was advertised to be in his first season with Ottawa. The speedy winger has a team-leading 16 goals and his 22 points ranks third on the squad. He has five power-play goals, two shorthanded tallies and three game-winners. 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 ranked second in the NHL prior to missing 14 games with a knee injury. He will make his return on Wednesday night. Ruutu has displayed a scoring touch for the Senators, scoring seven times and assisting on six others in all 36 games.    
 
DEFENSEMEN
Veterans Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips have had many great battles with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni 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. Phillips broke open a close game between the two teams on Nov. 19 with two third-period goals to stretch Ottawa’s lead to 5-1.

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. He did not dress on Nov. 19 due to an elbow injury. He is back in the lineup now so the Penguins have to make sure to keep their heads up when he is on the ice.

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 14 points (4G-10A) through 31 games. He teams with underrated Filip Kuba, who leads the Senators in average time on ice at 23:49 per game. Kuba is tied with Picard for most points by a Senators defenseman with 14 (2G-12A) in 28 games. 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 began the season hot offensively for the Senators but has tailed off in that regard in recent weeks and has eight points (1G-7A) in 32 games.
 
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 began the season as the go-to netminder for the Senators but has missed 16 consecutive games with a broken cheekbone. He is expected to make his return to the lineup against the Penguins. In 16 games Leclaire has posted an 8-5-1 record with a 2.71 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.

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.

With Leclaire on the shelf Brian Elliott has started 15 of the past 16 games and kept Ottawa in the playoff hunt. His numbers are actually a shade higher than Leclaire’s across the board. Elliot is 9-9-3 in 21 games with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. 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.
 
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: MIKE FISHER
Not too many players in the NHL can say they have had a better beginning to the 2009-10 season than Mike Fisher. A responsible two-way performer who takes the body, wins faceoffs and hounds the oppositions’ top players, Fisher has taken his offensive game to another level to make up for the struggles of some of his more well-known teammates.

Fisher’s 13 goals, 19 assists and 32 points last season were all the lowest figures he has posted in each category since his second full season in ’01-02. He used a five-point performance (2G-3A) in nine games with Canada at the 2009 World Championships to sprint out of the gate this season to post 15 goals and 14 assists through 34 games, all second-best on the Senators.

If on-ice success wasn’t enough for Fisher, his girlfriend, country music sensation Carrie Underwood, accepted his marriage proposal on Sunday.
 
INJURY UPDATE
Ottawa has been able to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite several long-term injuries to key players.
- Center Jason Spezza has a torn MCL and will be out until after the Olympic break.
- Goaltender Pascal Leclaire could return against the Penguins after missing 16 straight games with a broken cheekbone.
- Tough-guy Chris Neil is another candidate to return against the Penguins. He has sat out 14 games with a knee injury.
- Former Penguin Shean Donovan will be sidelined another 7-10 days with a lower-body injury sustained in a collision with Matt Cooke earlier this season.
- Winger Nick Foligno should be back after the New Year as he continues to nurse a knee injury.
 
"THEY SAID IT"
"I didn't know how many games, but obviously I know I haven't scored in a while. I've had a few chances here and there, but I feel I can do a better job of creating more chances and better chances."

– Daniel Alfredsson addressing his career-high 12-game goalless draught on Yahoo! Sports.

 
POINT OF INTEREST
5-9-1: Ottawa’s road record heading into Wednesday night. Only the Carolina Hurricanes have fewer victories on the road.
  
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Author: Jason Seidling

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