That should make for a physical series when the Stanley Cup final opens Monday night at Anaheim’s Honda Center (8 p.m. ET).
“I think our toughness is underrated a little bit,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said Friday morning following practice. “(And) I haven’t really seen them to know how physical they are, but I’m sure playing against us, it’s going to be their thing. They’re going to try to hit everything.”
After getting past the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres en route to their first Stanley Cup appearance in the modern team’s history, the Senators are expecting a much rougher ride from the Ducks because of Anaheim’s reputation for being big, strong and tough.
“You have to be prepared and know those guys are going to come after you now,” Ottawa’s Christoph Schubert said. “Right now, you have to be ready to keep your head up and know that somebody’s going to come after you.”
While Anaheim’s checking line centre Samuel Pahlsson leads the playoffs in hits with 57 so far, the Ducks’ lineup is peppered with big bodies like Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin on defence.
Up front, the line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner all stand at least six-foot-three and over 200 pounds.
General manager Brian Burke and coach Randy Carlyle like to see the Ducks play an aggressive style that, although it’s resulted in the most penalties in the playoffs, it’s also produced results.
“I think those are issues that when Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle took over Anaheim . . . Brian wanted them to be a hard-nosed team, a competitive team,” Senators coach Bryan Murray said. “And it does pay dividends and gets you into the final.”
Over the years, previous editions of the Senators have been knocked for their lack of toughness and physical play, something Murray and his coaching staff addressed with his players, and this time around they think they’ve found the missing ingredient.
For all the talk of Anaheim’s size, the teams are nearly identical physically in average height (six-foot-one) and weight (at 206 pounds, the Senators are two heavier than the Ducks).
The Senators have four players who rank in the top 10 in playoff hits: Mike Fisher, Christoph Schubert, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips.
“For the most part during the playoffs, we’ve initiated our physical play,” said Neil, who was the NHL’s leading hitter during the regular season with
288 and has 41 more in the post-season. “You see guys like Daniel Alfredsson laying out Richard Matvichuk the very first shift of the opening game (against New Jersey). That set the one for the whole series.
“I don’t think it’s a matter that we’re going to go into Anaheim and they’re going to push us all around the ice.”
The Ducks’ aggression ran into trouble against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference final and managed to survive thanks to some strong penalty-killing work.
“But we can’t change our style to avoid penalties,” Burke told the Orange County Register.
The Senators are banking on it since it may increase their chances. Anaheim is averaging 19.2 minutes in penalties per game and the Senators possess a power play that’s firing at a 20-per-cent clip (14-for-70).
“We talked about it this morning,” Schubert said. “We want to go after them as hard as we can and finish our check every time we can because we know they’re going to take some penalties.
“This is our goal. If me and Neiler go in and run those people every time and every shift that we have a chance to, I think they’ll get really frustrated with us.”