|Tom Preissing leads the Ottawa Senators defencemen with two goals and six points during the playoffs. Photo: A. Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC|
by Todd Anderson
Heading into the Eastern Conference final between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, the focus on both clubs has shifted to their ability - and desire - to roll all four forward lines regularly. While both teams possess talented forwards on every line that can score goals, it's the Senators defencemen who can play a pivotal role in the series.
"We're going to try and take (Buffalo's) aggressiveness and almost use that as an advantage," Senators defenceman Tom Preissing says, referring to a strong Buffalo forecheck. "We're going to really concentrate on making good, quick first passes as a defensive core. I think the sooner we get the puck into our forwards' hands, the better off we're going to be."
At the same time, the Ottawa defencemen have proven to be more than capable of chipping in offensively during these playoffs, scoring six goals and 22 points in 10 playoff games so far. Preissing leads the way for Ottawa with two goals and six points, while other contributions have come from Wade Redden (1-5), Joe Corvo (1-5), Anton Volchenkov (1-4) and Andrej Meszaros (1-2).
Alternate captain Chris Phillips has yet to record a point, but he and Volchenkov have continued to shut down the opposition's top players.
"Buffalo has four lines that can score, so I'm not sure who Phillips and I will play against," Volchenkov says. "We'll see what coach says, but everybody on defence has to be strong in this series."
Preissing expects to have less time for making decisions with the puck than was available against the New Jersey Devils in Round 2. Focussing on their surroundings will be key for the Ottawa defencemen against Buffalo.
"They are a lot more aggressive in the offensive zone than New Jersey was so that's going to be our biggest adjustment," Preissing says. "As you go deeper into the playoffs, you have to get contributions from everyone. Because of (Buffalo's) high-powered attack, our defensive unit has to be a little more cognizant of where we are, when we can pinch in, when we can't and where our forwards are in relation to what we're doing on the ice."
Meszaros is comfortable the group can handle the pressure. He says he and his partner, Redden, have fed off each other well during the post-season, as have the other two pairings.
"In the playoffs, Reddsy and I haven't given up too many goals. If we score, it's awesome, but the first thing is to not allow any goals. Whoever is first in (the offensive zone) can join the rush and whoever is the second guy can stay back a bit. It doesn't matter if Reddsy jumps up with the rush or me. I'm going to back him up, and if I go, I'm sure he will do the same thing."