PENGUINS (2-2-0) vs. SENATORS (3-1-0)
WHEN: January 26, 2013 - 5:00 pm | WHERE: Scotiabank Place
After finishing 19 points out of a playoff spot two seasons ago, the Ottawa Senators took the top-seeded New York Rangers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs last year. And so far, the Senators have been busy proving that last year’s success was no fluke and that they’re a legitimate contender with their hot 3-1 start.
Ottawa’s biggest strength is in its ability to score goals. They finished with the league’s fourth-ranked offense last season, led by their veteran core of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson along with Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (more on him later). Dominating center Spezza led the Senators with 84 points (34G-50A) last season, while linemate Michalek scored 35 goals and 60 points. They’re both big bodies that use their size to their advantage in the offensive zone and are dangerous together.
Though beloved captain Alfredsson turned 40 on Dec. 11, he had 27 goals last season for the Senators and currently has three assists in four games. And while Nick Foligno and his 47 points were traded to Columbus in the offseason, promising young forward Kyle Turris looks quite capable of making up for any lost offense as he is off to a fast start on a line with Alfredsson and newcomer Guillaume Latendresse. Turris leads the Senators with four goals in four games.
While the Senators have a skilled group of forwards, one of their biggest offensive threats comes from the blue line. Karlsson scored a staggering 78 points in 81 games last season on his way to being named the NHL’s best defenseman and loves using his speed to join the attack. The Senators locked the 22-year-old up in the offseason with a seven-year contract extension. However, the Senators struggled in many defensive categories last season – including penalty kill and goals and shots allowed per game. To help address that, Ottawa acquired shutdown defenseman Marc Methot from Columbus to steady their blue line and he’s been strong on the top pairing with Karlsson. Former Penguin Sergei Gonchar continues to play an integral role on the power play and has been paired with Chris Phillips.
Goalie Craig Anderson is off to an incredible start with the Senators, posting gaudy numbers through his first few games. He started Ottawa’s first three contests, backstopping his way to three wins, a 0.67 goals-against average and .976 save percentage. As backup Ben Bishop started Ottawa’s last game, a 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday, expect to see Anderson in the cage on Sunday..
SENATORS: KYLE TURRIS
It would be easy to choose a player like Jason Spezza for this section, as the veteran center has 41 points (16G-25A) in 32 career games against Pittsburgh. But early in the season, Kyle Turris’ performance has made him Ottawa’s player to watch as he already has four goals and an assist in four games played. Turris, the third overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by Phoenix, joined the Senators via trade on Dec. 17, 2011 and scored 29 points in 49 games with his new team. He’s had a long time to get adjusted in Ottawa and has gotten off to a fast start playing wing on a line with captain Daniel Alfredsson and big-bodied winger Guillaume Latendresse. Turris’ speed and scoring ability could pose a problem for Pittsburgh. PENGUINS: EVGENI MALKIN AND TYLER KENNEDY
It was hard to choose between Malkin and Kennedy, so we’ve made them both players to watch for Pittsburgh on Sunday. Malkin had a number of incredible scoring chances against Winnipeg on Friday, but was ultimately stymied by a Herculean effort from Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Look for Malkin to capitalize on his opportunities on Sunday in Ottawa. The Senators are one of those teams he historically does well against, with 15 goals and 25 points in 23 career games. Kennedy also performs well against Ottawa, with 10 goals and 15 points in 17 career contests. Their line with James Neal was strong on Friday, creating lots of offensive zone time and getting pucks to the net (they accounted for 16 of the Penguins' 35 shots). Kennedy teed off a few bombs from his off side. Look for more of that Sunday.
- The Penguins and Senators have matched up against each other as well as any two teams in the NHL over the past couple of years. Dating back to the 2006-07 season – a span of 24 regular-season games – the Senators have posted 13 wins in the series, versus 11 victories for the Penguins. During that span, the Penguins overall record is 11-11-2, while the Senators are 13-7-4. The two teams have also met in three postseason series since ’06-07, with the Penguins winning two of the three (’08, ’10), and the Senators once (’07). Including the postseason, Pittsburgh has won a combined 20 games, versus 19 wins for Ottawa, since ’06-07.
- Despite Friday night’s loss at Winnipeg, the Penguins remain one of the NHL’s best road teams. Pittsburgh’s loss on Friday night ended a four-game road winning streak that began with the final two road contests of last season, and included the first two road games of this campaign – back-to-back opening-weekend victories against Philadelphia and the NY Rangers.
- In fact, since Jan. 13, 2012, the Penguins have posted a 14-6-2 (.682 pct.) record over their last 22 road games. During that stretch they have outscored foes by a 78-64 advantage, while killing off 60-of-68 opposition power plays (88.2%).
- Evgeni Malkin was held off the scoresheet on Friday night for the first time this season, ending his brief three-game point streak. Malkin also saw his 11-game regular-season point streak – which dated back to last season (but was unofficial) – come to a close. Before Friday, Malkin had notched 19 points (6G-13A) over his last 11 regular-season contests.
- Despite the zero on Friday, Malkin has points in 15 of his last 17 road games dating back to Feb. 4 of last season. The only other road game during that stretch that Malkin has been held off the scoresheet was an 8-4 loss at Ottawa on March 24 of last season. Malkin has 19 points (8G-11A) over his last 17 road games. Malkin has fared well against the Senators of late, scoring at least one goal in eight of his last 10 games against them for a total of 13 points (10G-3A). Malkin also has four power-play goals during the stretch, which began on Nov. 19, 2009.
- Penguins captain Sidney Crosby enters Sunday’s game looking to score goals in three consecutive games for the first time since he had a five-game goal-scoring streak from Dec. 20-28, 2010 (6 goals total). Crosby notched his first multiple-goal game of the year with a pair of tallies on Friday against Winnipeg. His two goals marked his 50th career multiple-goal game.
- Crosby is looking to improve his point streak to four on Sunday. He currently has amassed five points (3G-2A) during his three-game point streak. Crosby enters Sunday’s game with a five-game point streak against the Senators (3G-6A-9PTS). Those numbers include five points (1G-4A) in two games against Ottawa last season. In his last seven games against the Senators, Crosby has totaled 12 points on three goals and nine assists. Crosby has eight points (2G-6A) in 11 career regular-season contests at Scotiabank Place.
D Jared Cowen (hip surgery, expected to miss the duration of the season)
D Mike Lundin (finger surgery)
Author: Michelle Crechiolo