The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators will meet in the Eastern Conference Final for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh got there by beating the Washington Capitals in seven games in the second round, and Ottawa topped the New York Rangers in six. This will be the first time these teams have met in the playoffs since 2013 when the Penguins dispatched the Senators in five games. The Penguins have won three of the four playoff matchups.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Ottawa Senators Eastern Conference Final Preview
Penguins Speed Against Ottawa’s Neutral Zone Trap
One of the biggest talking points in this series is going to be how the Senators stop the Penguins high end talent and speed. During the course of the season, Ottawa has employed a neutral zone trap that suffocates the life out of teams. It’s a 1-3-1 scheme and it clogs up the neutral zone, making it hard for teams to gain sufficient time in Ottawa’s zone.
Luckily for the Penguins, one of their assistant coaches is Jacques Martin used to coach in Ottawa. He had a similar kind of trap when he was the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 2009-2010. That kind of system frustrated the Penguins big time when they were trying to repeat that year, but they also ran into Jaroslav Halak who was having the postseason of his life. Martin and head coach Mike Sullivan will have to come up with a plan on how to beat it so Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin‘s lines can get some sustained zone time in the Ottawa zone.
If Ottawa can do a good job of employing the neutral zone trap, it’ll be a bit difficult for the Penguins top lines to get a lot of great looks in the Senators zone.
Erik Karlsson’s Amazing Play
The Senators are a big underdog in this series. For them to have any chance of knocking out the defending champions, Erik Karlsson will have to continue his outstanding play, and maybe even up it a notch.
Karlsson has been arguably the best player of the playoffs so far, and he’s been playing with a hairline fracture in his foot. He has 13 points in 12 playoff games, 11 of them have been assists. One of his two goals was the series clincher against the Rangers when he roofed a shot stick side on Henrik Lundqvist to give the Senators a two goal lead late in the second period in Game 6.
He’s simply a one man wrecking crew. He’s been great in his own zone defensively against both the Bruins and Rangers, but will now face his biggest test yet, stopping Crosby and Malkin. They both play on separate lines, but Karlsson will likely be out there against both of them. It’s going to be fascinating to see how he does.
The goaltending matchup this series isn’t between two world-class goaltenders, but it is between two goaltenders who come into this series playing very well.
In Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury has gone 8-4 and has won two playoff series for the first time since the 2009 Playoffs when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. He has a .927 save percentage overall and a 2.55 goals-against average.
In Games 1, 2, and 7 against the Capitals, Fleury stopped 100 out of 104 shots. That’s good for a .962 save percentage and a 1.33 goals-against average. He stole the series against the Capitals, and has the chance to lead the Penguins back to another Stanley Cup Final. It’s going to be a long series for Ottawa if they can’t solve Fleury.
For Ottawa, what else needs to be said about Craig Anderson? He’s had such an emotional and inspirational season in net for the Senators. On multiple occasions, he’s had to leave the team to spend time with his wife, who is battling cancer. He’s put up some good numbers in the playoffs as well. He’s 8-4 with a 2.49 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.
Anderson was especially good in the series clincher against the Rangers. He had 37 saves on 39 shots, which is good for a .948 save percentage. Anderson has been the Senators’ second best player during the playoffs, and he’s going to have to come up big for Ottawa if they’re going to pull off the upset. Neither Sergei Bobrovsky nor Braden Holtby have been able to play well against Pittsburgh so far in the playoffs.
Penguins in Six Games.
After knocking off the number one team in the league, the Penguins come into this series as the favorite. This series is going to be closer then some people think, but the Penguins will pull it off in six, returning to the Stanley Cup Final as the defending champion having a chance to repeat. Pittsburgh’s high end talent will be too much for the Senators to handle during the series. They’d be the first defending champion to return to the final since the Detroit Red Wings in 2009. No team has repeated as Stanley Cup Champions since the 1997-98 Detroiters, but Pittsburgh will have the opportunity.