OTTAWA – Sidney Crosby may have burned the opposition for 51 goals this season, but the Ottawa Senators are confident they can shut down the Penguins star in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
They’ve done it before.
“We’ve had success in the past in trying to contain (Crosby), a little bit anyway,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said as Ottawa prepared to face the defending Stanley Cup champions in the opening round for the third time in four seasons. “We know them well. We know what it’s going to take to beat them and it won’t be easy.”
The Senators beat Pittsburgh in five games in 2007 as Ottawa made its way to the final for the first time. A year later the Penguins got their revenge however, sweeping the Sens en route to an appearance in the final.
This edition of the matchup gets underway Wednesday night at Mellon Arena (CBC, 7 p.m. ET).
“They’re probably the favourites, but do we think we have a chance? Obviously, we do,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
Stopping Crosby will be a good start.
The Penguins were the second-highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season and Crosby led the way with 51 goals and 109 points. By comparison, Fisher was the top goal-scorer for Ottawa, with a mere 25 goals.
However, in splitting four games with the Senators, Crosby was held to just three assists and all of those came in the same contest – an 8-2 Penguins’ blowout in December.
In 17 career regular-season games against Ottawa, Sid the Kid has just two goals and 11 assists and is a minus-8.
He has fared better in the playoffs with 13 points in nine games, including eight in the four-game sweep in 2008, but Senators general manager Bryan Murray was quick to point out Monday that Ottawa played that series with a depleted lineup.
The Senators’ defensive corps is bigger and better this time around, although the duo of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are expected to continue with their tradition of playing opposite Crosby as much as possible.
“It really starts in the neutral zone with a strong focus to try and take away his space there,” Phillips said. “Have someone close and trying to deter his teammates from wanting to give him the puck in the neutral zone where he can create a lot of speed and carry that on into the offensive zone.
“(But) it’s not the two defencemen out there, it’s all five guys are aware of when he’s out there and to be extra focused.”
Of course, the Penguins go beyond Crosby. It’s the 1-2 punch of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up the middle – even a 1-2-3 punch if you count 21-goal scorer Jordan Staal – that makes Pittsburgh so dangerous.
“They’re more than a one-man team,” Ottawa coach Cory Clouston warned Monday.
Should the Sens manage to contain Crosby, Malkin’s effectiveness Malkin will likely determine how the Penguins fare.
Malkin, hampered by a foot injury, is coming off an off-year for him with 28 goals and 77 points, but he still scored in three of the four regular-season meetings with Ottawa and had five goals in total.
Phillips said the Senators can’t afford to sit back and admire the skill level of the Pens’ duo.
“You just try to be in their face,” Phillips said.
That’s where Ottawa is hoping the addition of a couple of big bodies in the six-foot-six Andy Sutton, acquired in March before the trade deadline, and six-foot-four Matt Carkner, in his first full NHL season, will help out.
“We’ve got a lot of great shot-blockers and guys who are going to make it hard on them,” Fisher said.
Sutton finished second in the NHL with 204 blocked shots, second only to Dennis Seidenberg’s 215 despite having played seven less games. Volchenkov, in just 64 games, ranked eighth with 172.
Facing Crosby, Malkin and Co. will be a trial by fire for much of the Senators’ regular blue-liners after Phillips and Volchenkov.
Twenty-five-year-old Chris Campoli is the most-experienced of the bunch when it comes to the post-season, with five games on his resume. The 35-year-old Sutton has just four career playoff games to his credit and the 29-year-old Carkner has yet to appear in the post-season. Rookie blue-liner Erik Karlsson will also be making his playoff debut.
“It’s always a good challenge, those are really dynamic players,” Sutton said of facing Crosby and Malkin. “The key to defending those guys is a collective team defence, limiting turnovers in the wrong spots, just making them work extra hard in corners and getting hits on them when you can.”