Are we having fun yet? Three great games have opened up these NHL playoffs and now we get our (fingers crossed) fourth on Monday night when the Penguins and Senators play in Game 2. These playoffs have been harder to bet on than any in recent memory but as long as you’ve been taking a few risks and doing some research you should be enjoying the ride.
The approach will be no different on Monday night as the Penguins try to even the series at home. Both teams played an unpredictable brand of hockey in Game 1 and may have been dealing with some nerves as they started the Eastern Conference Finals. Now that Game 1 is out of the way, we expect the action to return to normal. Let’s get to it!
The Penguins haven’t lost many games on home ice this year, and the playoffs have been no different. Yet in Game 1 the Ottawa Senators came into their building and stole the first win of this series and shifted the momentum in their favor. Now the Sens are playing with house money but would still be thrilled to leave with a 2-0 lead in the series. Pittsburgh is playing from behind for the first time in these playoffs after jumping out to lead against the Blue Jackets and the Capitals and it will be interesting to see how they respond now that they’re in a hole.
We picked the Penguins to get the job done in their first game of this series but perhaps we underestimated just how good this Ottawa team is. The Senators played a strong game on both ends of the ice and controlled the pace of play as best as they could. Now it’s their chance to mimic their first performance and leave Pittsburgh with a huge series lead.
Pittsburgh has relied on their offense all season long and throughout these playoffs and for the most part, when it goes quiet they lost. That was certainly the case on Saturday night as the Penguins managed just one goal. They also fire just 28 shots on net despite being on the powerplay five times in the game. They finished 0/5 with the extra man attacker and we certainly don’t expect that trend to continue going forward. We told you to keep an eye out for Evgeni Malkin as he continues his assault on goalies throughout these playoffs and he delivered again as the only Pittsburgh player to score a goal in Game 1. Malkin now leads all skaters in these playoffs with 19 points including six goals and 13 assists. He’ll need to stay hot if the Penguins want their offense to improve but they may have a bigger problem on their hands.
Sidney Crosby is arguably the best player on the planet, but even the best player can face some setbacks when they’re dealing with a concussion. Crosby has looked less than 100 percent since suffering a concussion against the Washington Capitals in round 2 and that’s bad news for Pittsburgh. They need their captain to be as sharp as can be in order to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals but we expect his game to come back around. He still led all Pittsburgh forwards in ice-time with over 23 minutes and finished with four hits and two shots on goal. Crosby at 80 percent is still better than almost 100 percent of the league and as long as he’s on skates the Penguins should be able to get back into this series.
As for the Senators, their regular cast of contributors was at it again. Bobby Ryan and Jean-Gabriel Pageau combined for both goals with Ryan scoring the overtime winner in a very special moment for the Ottawa forward. Ryan lost his mother to cancer last July and rewarded her with a huge game-winning goal in the 2017 playoffs. Now he seems more motivated than ever and has a career best 11 playoff points through 13 games including five goals and six assists. After recording just 25 points in 62 regular season games this year he’s proving his worth when it matters most and the Penguins will need to do a better job of keeping him locked down in the defensive zone.
Ottawa may have only scored two goals but they were strong with the puck all game long. The Senators finished with 35 shots and controlled the puck well all night long. Erik Karlsson didn’t take as many risks as he normally does but still finished with six shots on goal and was buzzing all over the ice. The fact that he didn’t pick up a point is a bad sign for the Penguins as he’s sure to have at least one big game in this series. Ottawa wasn’t supposed to be an offensive juggernaut but they have played a control game and managed to create excellent opportunities that their skilled players are cashing in on.
The Penguins have been a poor defensive team for the majority of the season but actually played well against the Senators in Game 1 despite the outcome. After losing a huge chunk of their defensive core including most notably Kris Letang, many people thought the Pens wouldn’t be able to shut down anyone. All Pittsburgh did was beat the high-flying Washington Capitals and then limit the Senators to one goal in regulation. They still need to block more pucks and limit their turnovers (They gave away the puck 17 times in Game 1) but for the most part they played a controlled game in their own end and their forwards helped backcheck as often as possible.
A lot has been asked of Justin Schultz both defensively and offensively during the regular season and the playoffs. He’s answered the bell almost every game but had a tough time against the Senators in Game 1. He was on the ice for the only goal during regulation and couldn’t get anything going on offense. The Penguins need him to be aggressive on the powerplay if they want to jumpstart their offense to try and tie up this series.
Ottawa’s defense has been their strength during their postseason run and they were at it again on Saturday night. The Senators limited the Penguins to just one goal and 28 shots on net which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Their penalty kill was the hero of the game as they shutdown all five opportunities the Penguins had. Erik Karlsson was brilliant as always but Dion Phaneuf deserves a lot of credit as well. He’s been the unsung hero for this team and seems much more comfortable playing second fiddle to Karlsson than being the number one guy like he was in Toronto.
Phaneuf will need to continue to play a physical game and try to throw Crosby off as much as he can in order to keep the momentum on his side. Phaneuf finished with four big hits and Marc Methot chipped in with seven of his own. Those 11 hits can seriously rattle an offense and that certainly seemed the be the case with how timid the Penguins looked with the puck on their stick. Those hits forced turnovers (17) while Ottawa committed just six of their own. That disparity was likely the difference maker in a close first game.
Both goalies put on a show on Saturday night but Craig Anderson was the star. He was excellent all night and turned away 27 of 28 shots. He almost recorded a shutout but eventually gave up a goal to Malkin. He’s now 9-4 in the postseason with a 2.37 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. While those numbers aren’t out of this world they’re certainly improving and if he can keep up his Game 1 play for the duration of the series the Penguins will have a tough time scoring.
Opposite Anderson is Marc-Andre Fleury who has been excellent during these playoffs for the Penguins. He was strong again on Saturday allowing just two goals on 35 shots including just one in regulation. Fleury now has an 8-5 record with a 2.49 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Now that Matt Murray is healthy though, the pressure is even higher on Fleury. If he can’t get the job done in Game 2 we could see Murray sooner than later.
Sidney Crosby against Dion Phaneuf. Crosby is at his best when he has room to move and while Kid Canada doesn’t mind some contact, he also doesn’t love being hit all over the ice. Phaneuf did a good job of checking him whenever he could and will need to continue that if Ottawa wants to take a 2-0 series lead back home.
The Penguins were arguably the better offensive team in Game 1 and drew a ton of penalties but simply couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities. We expect Pittsburgh to come out of the gate with a much better performance and jump out to an early lead. Take the Penguins on the moneyline and hope Crosby is feeling even better.
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