Ottawa leads series, 1-0
The defending Stanley Cup Champions are looking to avoid an 0-2 hole tonight but the Penguins are not calling game 2 a must win.
Much of the focus heading into game 2 has been on Marc Andre Fleury who was critical of his own play in game 1 and is looking for a rebound game but two other concerns for Pittsburgh has been their lack of production at the winger position and their group of top-6 defensemen.
An interesting dynamic over the past 24 hours has been talk coming from the national media in their opinions of the Penguins blueliners.
I spoke to three national writers on Thursday who are in town covering the series and the surprise from these highly respected writers who don’t see this team on a daily basis was “how soft” the Penguins top-6 appeared to be in game 1.
Kevin Allen of the USA today appeared on the Mark Madden show on Thursday afternoon and made similar references, making a comment that the Penguins group of top-6 defensemen look very good on “paper” but last season they were constructed to play more of a “team defense” game.
Talk out of the Senators locker room is that the Penguins mobile defensemen don’t like to be hit and and are vulnerable with an aggressive fore-check.
That kind of talk has been coming from the likes of Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil.
Pittsburgh will look to shore up their play in their defensive zone in game 2. The Penguins struggled clearing the front of the net in game 1 but more of the concern from the players appeared to be on neutral zone and offensive zone turnovers which led to scoring chances the other way.
For Pittsburgh questions remain whether the Penguins blueline is constructed to win in the playoffs.
The consensus from scouts I’ve been in contact with is that Jordan Leopold has not been a bad fit in Pittsburgh by any means but he has not improved the club defensively because he did not fit a specific need that they lacked on their blueline.
*Meanwhile, the Senators depth on their blueline was in question coming into game 1 with the loss of Filip Kuba but for at least one game, they have put those concerns to rest.
The Senators got a very strong performance from their 2nd pairing of Andy Sutton and Erik Karlsson Wednesday night. Karlsson was among the best players on the ice and for the Senators to jump out to a 2-0 lead, Sutton and Karlsson will need to have repeat performances.
The Senators limited Pittsburgh opportunities 5-on-5 because they clogged the middle and kept Pittsburgh to perimeter.
Ottawa blocked 18 shots as Sutton and No. 5 defenseman Chris Campoli combined for 7 blocked shots.
Getting pucks behind the Senators defense has been Pittsburgh’s focus who only managed 21 shots on goal in game 1.
*How the Senators deal with adversity tonight and the rest of the series will be intriguing to watch. Injuries to top players are starting to pile up as Ottawa will be forced to play the rest of the postseason without right winger Milan Michalek, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee on Wednesday.
The Michalek injury is significant as the Senators are already without defenseman Filip Kuba and forward Alex Kovalev.
If Pittsburgh is unable to win this series, it will be a complete disappointment inside the organization considering the injuries Ottawa has.
*A key for Pittsburgh tonight will be a better performance from their third line. Matt Cooke – Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy were combined minus-6 in game 1 and outplayed by the Senators third line that combined for 3 goals and 6 points.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby combined for 2 goals and 4 assists in game 1.