Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Game One: Ottawa 5 Pittsburgh 4

That's why you have those guys on the team.

The playoffs.

The line of Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu were clearly the best from either team tonight, yet their worth was at times fiercely debated amongst fans, bloggers and the media during the past two regular seasons.

Tonight was a solid reminder that players of their ilk don't always show their true worth until the post-season where guys will gladly eat the boards if it means moving the puck a few inches up the ice.

That's the kind of mentality that Neil and Ruutu bring to the rink and Kelly is a perfect fit as their calming, complete two-way centre.

The Penguins didn't seem to have an answer for that line all night. They had Matt Cooke running around, but, like the rest of the Penguins, Cooke's antics seemed random and only worked once when he managed to get Jason Spezza hauled off the ice in coincidental minors early in the third period. Cooke ended up a minus 2.

Like any playoff game, it was marked by wild surges in momentum and both goalies looked less than impressive, even though Brian Elliott won in a war of attrition. The game didn't start off great for the rookie Elliott when he fumbled a puck out of his glove and watched it drop in front of the crease before Erik Karlsson made a nice play to save a goal from being scored.

And as usual there were some miscues (Peter Regin's three penalties, two of which resulted in a Penguins goal) but in the big picture, the Senators looked like a much better team than the disorganized Pens.

But it's one game.

The real test will be game two Friday night when the Pens will be completely focused on salvaging their opening home stand, and it will be hard to deny a team with that much firepower and experience.

Yet the Senators have already exposed the cracks in the highly favoured Pittsburgh team. The Pens looked completely unprepared for the Senators defenseman who were jumping into the play at every opportunity. That's a system adjustment coach Dan Bylsma can make on the fly, but what he can't change is a Pens defense that looks much too soft in their own end, probably because it's made up of offensive specialists like Jordan Leopold, Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang. Brooks Orpik is a tough defender, but no one is mistaking him for an Anton Volchenkov or an Andy Sutton.

Many times tonight, the Senators were able to cycle the puck down low for long stretches, in particular, Ottawa's two physical lines (the Kelly line and the Fisher line). That's not something that Coach Bylsma is going to put an end to by writing on a chalkboard. That's just big Senators forwards outmuscling small Penguins defenseman.

Say all you want about shutting down Crosby and Malkin, it's the softness of the Penguins defense that will give the Senators their best chance to shock the hockey world and win this series.


The tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorists who believe that Ron Maclean and Hockey Night In Canada have something against the Senators, were no doubt provoked by Maclean's opening monologue in which he talked about Sidney Crosby not having success against Ottawa. "It's not the mountains you trip over, but the pebbles", said Maclean majestically as images of Chris Neil and other Senators warming up flashed across the screen. Pebbles. Usually the tone from HNIC towards Ottawa is merely condescending, but for a moment it looked like they'd cranked up the intensity level to insulting. Yet Maclean and Don Cherry had nothing but great things to say about the Sens after the first intermission and Maclean even got Cherry to admit that Erik Karlsson was a "heckuva player". Truth is, folks in Ottawa get a little too sensitive about these things. There's never been an "agenda" at CBC to run down the Sens. Maclean and Cherry rip the Leafs just as hard. But they do know that Leafs talk and Leafs games drive the ratings. Like everything else in the NHL, it's about the bottom line........

The only Senator who showed up in the first eight minutes of the game was Jarkko Ruutu. He "accidentally" bumped into Evgeni Malkin after the whistle at one point and was given a stern warning from the referee, which Ruutu (hilariously) didn't even bother to acknowledge as he skated to the bench. As Cherry pointed out on Coach's Corner, Malkin had already drawn the ire of the Senators when he lipped off to their bench after the Pens first goal. This, folks, is why the playoffs are so damn good..... Glad to see Zack Smith letting that mohawk grow in. It might have looked cool in Binghamton, but in the NHL you'll only catch grief for it (see Mike Green). And this is coming from a guy, me, who used to have a bright red one when he was a kid. In fact, the only people who should have mohawks are those who know that Black Flag is not just a bug spray.......

Elliott made some great saves, but am I the only one who winces every time there's a shot from the point headed towards his net? He's going to have to be better going forward in order to make sure he doesn't let any more deflating goals in. There are going to be a handful of nights where he's going to outright have to steal a game. That's just the way it is....... Karlsson was incredible again tonight. This guy is going to be a superstar in this league. Like Glen Healy said on the CBC broadcast, not many people around the league are aware of him right now, but they'll all know his name by the end of this series.


phil said...

kelly/neil/ruutu respect? goligoski/cooke/bylsma burns? black flag reference?! so many reasons to love this post!

not the least of which - it's about our biggest win since the cup finals!

Anonymous said...

The Kelly line was the difference tonight, no question. If your third line has that kind of production, you gotta like your chances.

I thought that the Pens looked like "Crosby, Malkin, ... and the rest" more than any time that I could remember. The talent gap was huge.

Big time pressure on the Pens on Friday. If the Sens can nab that one, the mental game becomes an issue for the Pens.

If you like patterns, there's a pretty neat one. Every four years since 1994, there's been an unexpected Cup finalist.

In 1994, Vancouver made it as a 14th seed.
In 1998, Washington made it as an 8th seed.
In 2002, Carolina made it as a 16th seed.
In 2006, Edmonton made it as a 14th seed.

In 2010, will Ottawa make it as a 13th seed?

I know, it's early, but you gotta dream it bit.

Michael said...

Black Flag! It's been years since I heard that. I wonder if my old laceups still fit.