4/14/2010 7:00:00 PM
Special teams will decide this opening round playoff series between the Penguins and Senators, and Pittsburgh's special teams will win out in Game 1 on Wednesday.
Tonight the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs gets underway. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be hosting the Ottawa Senators in the first game.
The Penguins got in as a fourth seed while the Senators are in as a fifth seed. This looks to be a pretty good matchup for the Penguins.
The Senators haven't been to the playoffs since that Cup Final run a few years back. Although this Senators team is a lot different then the one of three years ago, they may be able to make some noise if they play a perfect game. Ottawa may be able to win a game or two against the Penguins but I expect the Sens won't get past the first round.
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Special teams for both clubs will play an important role in this series. On the season Ottawa ranked 21st on the powerplay at 17%. On the penalty kill they ranked seventh at 84.3% The powerplay line will need to net some goals against the Penguins as Ottawa will not be overly dominant in five-on-five situations.
Also the penalty kill group will need to be even better then it was in the regular season. Ottawa can't afford to give Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby too much time with the man advantage. This is where the series will be won and lost.
These two teams rank pretty close on special teams. Both teams are about average on the powerplay and are both in the top-10 on the penalty kill. Power play goals may be at a premium in this series. Pittsburgh ranked 20th on the power play at 17.2%. The Penguins ranked ninth best in the league at killing off penalties at 84.1%.
Pittsburgh and Ottawa met four times during the regular season with each team getting two wins. Each team won a game at home and on the road. The series between these two teams has been pretty tight with the teams splitting the last 10 meetings. The favorite in the series has won 20 of the past 27 games.
Pittsburgh is also 22-5 in the last 27 playoff games as a favorite and has won eight of the past 10 games in the conference quarterfinal series.
Ottawa didn't look too great closing out the season losing three of its last four games. Two of those losses were against non-playoff teams in Tampa Bay and the Islanders. Ottawa will need to get back to a better brand of defensive hockey to have a chance in upsetting the Penguins. Ottawa gave up three or more goals in five of the last six games to end the season.
Pittsburgh alternated wins and losses in its final six games of the season. Overall the Penguins won five of their last eight.
The Penguins will need to be better in the defensive end to go anywhere this spring. Pittsburgh gave up three or more goals in four of the final five games. In those four games the Penguins gave up 17 goals.
If Pittsburgh wants to go anywhere they will need to play some defense.
Pick: Penguins -210 (in regulation)