Through the first twenty minutes of last nights’ game between the Sens and Pens, I was genuinely concerned that the Penguins would be able to crack the wall that was Craig Anderson. The Vezina-caliber goaltender was on his game, stopping the relentless penguins attack, and getting a little help from defenseman Chris Phillips with maybe the best toe save of the playoffs on a Sidney Crosby snap shot.
6 goals later, my questions had been answered.
At some point, either the Penguins were going to be discouraged or the “Wall of
Anderson” would crack. Fortunately for Penguins fans, the unrelenting attack that is the Pittsburgh Penguins All-star Team won that battle, chasing Anderson for the second time in four games.
I read a blog this morning and some Ottawa fans were calling for goaltender Robin Lehner to get the nod in the crease in Friday’s elimination game in Pittsburgh. What a joke. The last three seasons in Ottawa, Anderson posted save percentages of .939, .914, and .941 respectively. In the first round matchup with Montreal, he posted an astonishing 4-1 record, 1.80 GAA, and a .950 SV%. Trust me Ottawa, it is not Anderson.
This series just boils down to the problem that Penguins present to opposing teams: Which line do you choose to stop? The Turris/Spezza line has looked fantastic and has matched up pretty well against the Duper/Sid/Kuni line (well, as good as you can I suppose). As mentioned, the Karlsson/Methot pairing has faired well as the series has progressed. Aside from those players, the young Senators team just cannot matchup with the talent level of the Penguins. Gonchar and Phillips look old, slow, and just plain awful. The young J.G. Pageau and veteran Daniel Alfredsson are great stories. Sure, their battle level has been great every night. Paul Maclean is fantastic. They have surprised everyone by even getting to the playoffs let alone a first round beating of the Canadiens. But I think they have now reached the point where their lack of top-tier talent can no longer be masked by their intensity and coaching.
Give this team credit though. If you look at their roster, and consider the absence of Spezza, Karlsson, and Michalek for almost the entire season, it’s remarkable that they’ve made it to this point and they should be commended for what they’ve accomplished. If I were a Senators fan I would be incredibly excited for what the future holds for this team.
Turning back to the Penguins, I thought I would finish my article with some player-by-player analysis. I like what I’ve seen from many players but there certainly are a few outliers. Thanks for reading, let’s go Pens!
Pascal Dupuis – What’s left to say? Biggest bargain in the league at 1.5mil. Plays every single situation, like a boss. Leads the league with 7 playoff goals. Oh yeah, NONE are on the PP.
Sidney Crosby – Showing the national audience why he is on his own level. The most dominant force I’ve ever watched in my days as a hockey fan. Slap me silly, Sidney.
Chris Kunitz – My favorite Penguin. Our hardest working top-six forward. He does the little things that no one else does to get space for his linemates. 9 points in 10 games. Hoping his injury isn’t too serious.
James Neal – Clearly still being hampered by what appeared to be a sprained ankle in the Islanders series. Last night was a coming out party though. Hoping that continues.
Evgeni Malkin – Skating like a man possessed. Made careless mistakes in the Isles series that have since been forgotten by much better 2-way play against the Sens. Averaging over 4 shots a game.
Jarome Iginla – Leaving me wanting a little bit more 5-on-5. Looking better the last two games. A -1 in the postseason thusfar. Still playing over a PPG pace though, which I’ve heard isn’t bad.
Matt Cooke – Only two points in the postseason, yet somehow a +5. The puck is ALWAYS deep in the opposing end when he is on the ice. Banging bodies as usual. Getting in opponent’s heads. Has 8 minor penalties in 10 games which is bothersome.
Brandon Sutter – Winning over 50% of his draws and a force defensively. Would like to see his point output (1G, 1A through 10 games) increase a bit.
Brendan Morrow – Crushing bodies as usual, but a -3. Playing just fair in my eyes.
Craig Adams – Easily my favorite 4th liner. Gets pucks deep, cycles well, and our best penalty killer. Knows his role and embraces it. The Harvard grad looks great out there.
Tyler Kennedy – Couldn’t stand watching him during the regular season, but is playing his best hockey of his career right now. He’s only played 6 games and is 3rd on the team with a +5 rating, and 4 points to go along with it. Don’t scratch him Disco Dan.
Tanner Glass – I can’t hold it back, to me he’s playing like crap and has been all year. One of the nicest Penguins and best leaders, but just leaves so much to be desired. TK/CA/Vitale on the 4th line is such a better look to me.
Joe Vitale – Always been a huge fan of Joey V. Brings a nice combination of skill and grit to the 4th line. His speed goes well with TK. Would like to see him scratched less.
Beau Bennett – Until a top six forward goes down, he probably shouldn’t play. Not a gritty player. I do believe he is a future top six forward for us especially if either Dupuis or Iginla leave next season. He’ll have his time.
Jussi Jokinen – Looked pretty good last night, but not really a fourth liner. He has his moments, but has said himself that he is best in a top-9 role. A GREAT replacement if an injury occurs. Love that 64% faceoff stat.
Kris Letang – Yes, he does make some careless mistakes. But he plays half the game, literally (27:17 AVG TOI), so that’s going to happen. Leads the league in playoff scoring from the blueline. +4.
Paul Martin – Our best defenseman of the post season thusfar. One of the best year to year turnarounds I’ve seen. So smooth with the puck, playing great D in his own end as well. +8, 9 points in 10 games. Loving it, P-Mart.
Brooks Orpik – Playing like the Orpik of old. Enough said.
Douglas Murray – OCCASIONALLY his lack of speed gets the best of him, but clears bodies out better than anyone else we have. Gives our team energy. Wears the other team down. Gotta love Crankshaft.
Matt Niskanen – Loved his regular season, but definitely bugging me right now. Not playing well in his own end. Was the key cause of the double OT goal, as well as the first goal last night.
Mark Eaton – Have hardly even noticed when he’s out there, which for a stay-at-home defenseman is always a great thing.
Simon Despres – Has some learning to do in his own end but plays well offensively and moves the puck well. Best used against teams with speed.
Derek Engelland – minus-4 in 4 games with a 12:01 AVG TOI. Not cutting it.
Tomas Vokoun – 5-1, .942SV%, 1.82GAA. Unbelievable numbers for a “backup”. Last night was his only shaky outing in my eyes, just didn’t look completely comfortable.
Marc-Andre Fleury – MAF’s talent is undeniable and his regular season play has been nothing short of outstanding. But I believe his playoff failures are all mental. I think sitting on the bench and thinking about it is probably the best thing for him.