Coming in Hot: Pens/Sens, DefensePosted: 13/05/2013
The Penguins and the NHL have just confirmed the date for Game 1 against the Senators. Tomorrow at 7:30 PM the battle begins anew. That probably lines everything up for Game 2 to be played on Thursday and Game 3, in Ottawa, Saturday evening for a “Hockey Night in Canada” showdown. The rest of the details will probably be released after the pair of Game 7’s going on tonight.
Defense: Erik Karlsson is back for the Senators, but according to most who have been watching him, he doesn’t look quite 100% yet. Despite that he still has 6 points in 5 games, that puts him in a tie with Kris Letang, Paul Martin, and Zdeno Chara for the lead amongst defensemen. Beyond Karlsson the rest of the Senators defense consists of Marc Methot, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips, Jared Cowan, and when he’s not suspended, Eric Gryba. Both Gonch and Phillips have played in all 3 of the previous Pens/Sens series, they’re also a combined 74 years old. Methot and Cowan are both good, reasonably young, big defensemen, and I literally know nothing about Gryba except that he got suspended 2 games for a brutal hit on Lars Eller.
All in all this is a combination of experience, skill, and grit, pretty much everything you could ask of a defense. As such they definitely helped Anderson to earn such high marks in goaltending.
For what it’s worth, it seems like the one guy in Ottawa who doesn’t care about the Erik Karlsson injury is Erik Karlsson. Shortly after the Pens won Game 6 Karlsson shared this nugget on Twitter:
Oh, also, dammit if you don’t like this guy a little bit…
On paper I would give the advantage to the Penguins here. As mentioned above, both Paul Mart and Tanger are at the top of the scoring race in the playoffs among defensemen. Head to head the Pens just look better: Letang is a more mature (finally), better defensive player than Erik Karlsson. Paul Martin is a much younger Gonch. Brooks Orpik is a younger and more dynamic Phillips, Doug Murray was the most consistently quality defensemen for the Pens in the first round, and after a rough first four games Nisky looked like a different kind of human on the ice in Games 5 and 6.
True story: Douglas Murray is a co-founder and managing partner of a company that makes beer taps. The Legend grows.
But then there are questions again: Mark Eaton nearly lost his life in the Islanders series, I’ve never seen someone look so slow and awkward as he did. But you need his approach to safe play and shot-blocking in the playoffs and the Senators aren’t going to test the Pens in quick transition the way the Isles were able to. But do you make a change away from Simon Despres, with whom the Pens have gone 3-0 (surprisingly enough), and who has been great when paired with Kris Letang. We can’t answer that question, but that’s a good problem to have.
In his, admittedly, unsolicited critique of the Penguins Dejan seems to advocate for Deryk Engelland. In some ways that does make sense, although the Islanders series was not unphysical, we feel quite confident that Chris Neil and assorted other “class-ful” Ottawa players are going to bring something quite different than we saw against the Islanders. As such the Penguins may need to protect some of their superstars. Don’t know if that’s going to happen, and we don’t know if the Senators will actually look to play a violent game, but they might want to at least act like it to force Engo into the lineup over his better contemporaries. So far it seems to be working. In practice today Engo skated with Murray and Letang and Niskanen skated together to round out the top-6 defensemen.
What this comes down to is execution, the Pens should be better here, but so far this playoffs they just haven’t been. As we look at the way two teams match up to one another, the Islanders were a horrible matchup for the Pens. The Senators are nearly ideal, they have some speed at the forward position, but they don’t really have the same level of talent that the Islanders had. Further, unlike the Islanders that pressed all 5 skaters in the offensive zone, the Senators are much more systematic and defense-oriented. If each side is comparable in talent I’ll give the edge to the team that doesn’t have to use such talent to stop Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and the leading goal scorer in the playoffs Pascal Dupuis.
Bottom line: despite the Pens’ defensive struggles against the Islanders, I still give them a slight edge in this series, if for no other reason than the fact that I don’t think especially highly of the Senators’ forwards and offensive players.