Pens-Sens Storyline Progress

Tuesday, 05.21.2013 / 11:00 AM
Sam Kasan

The Penguins and Ottawa Senators are three-games deep into their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup with Pittsburgh currently holding a 2-1 series lead. Prior to the series we discussed the storylines for the Pens-Sens battle (click here for all the storylines). Here’s a look at how those storylines have played out so far.

Background:
The biggest question for the Penguins entering the series was who their starting goaltender would be. Marc-Andre Fleury has been the franchise goaltender for the past seven years, starting in 79 consecutive playoff games and winning a Stanley Cup. But after surrendering some shaky goals, he was replaced in the first round by Tomas Vokoun, who won Games 5 and 6 against the NY Islanders to finish off the series.

Progress:
Instead of going back to Fleury, the Penguins stuck by Vokoun in the first three games against Ottawa. He responded with a 2-1 record, 1.73 goals-against average and .943 save percentage (and ironically his only loss was a 46-save double overtime game, and his “best game” according to head coach Dan Bylsma).

Verdict:
Looks like Bylsma made the right decision to stick by Vokoun. The netminder has rewarded his coach’s confidence with three incredible games between the pipes.

Background:
The Penguins had the No. 1 ranked offense in the NHL this season with an average of 3.38 goals per game. The Senators had the second-best defense in the league (2.08). The major facet to Ottawa’s defensive success has been the play of goaltender Craig Anderson, who led the NHL in goals-against average (1.69) and save percentage (.941). So it was the unstoppable force versus the immovable object.

Progress:
The Penguins had no trouble scoring goals in the first two games, totaling eight – more than double the Senators' normal amount allowed. Pittsburgh also broke through on Anderson, scoring seven goals on him in a little over four periods (he was pulled 1:15 into the second period of Game 2.

The Senators buckled down in Game 3 and Anderson responded to his pulling. Ottawa and Anderson surrendered just one goal in 87:39 minutes of hockey. The netminder turned aside 49 shots in the process to reclaim his groove.

Verdict:
The Penguins’ juggernaut offense broke through twice (two wins) and was stunted once (loss). So far the edge is in the Penguins' favor. Ottawa must contain Pittsburgh’s offense to win this series.

Background:
Senators center Jason Spezza had been out of the team’s lineup since Jan. 27 after having back surgery. He began skating and practicing with his teammates following their opening-round series victory over Montreal. While Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean said Spezza was “a long way away” to returning, it seemed to be only a matter of time.

Progress:
As expected, Spezza returned to the lineup, making his comeback in Game 3. His presence not only adds an offensive element, but also makes the Senators stronger down the middle as he and Kyle Turris give them a solid 1-2 punch.

Spezza finished the game with a minus-1 rating and four shots. But his biggest contribution in Game 3 was in the faceoff circle, where he won 15 of 25 draws (60 percent).

Verdict:
It was only one game, so his impact is still to be determined. This storyline will continue to play out with each game Spezza plays. It certainly helps to have him back in the lineup, but time will tell if it’s a series-changer.

Background:
Both teams knew that special teams would be a major factor in this series. Much like the Penguins offense vs. Senators defense, special teams was a battle of the Penguins' No. 2 ranked NHL power play (24.7%) and Ottawa’s No. 1 ranked NHL penalty kill (88%).

Progress:
The Penguins started strong in Game 1 with two power-play goals in four tries (and really the final power play came with 29 seconds left and the game in hand, so the Penguins didn’t bother trying to score). Pittsburgh went 1-for-6 in Game 2. The Senators PK was spectacular in Game 3 as they killed off all six Penguins’ power plays (and also scored a shorthanded goal with 28 seconds left to tie the game before winning in OT).

Verdict:
The Senators adjusted after Game 1 – pressuring the puck and using isolated back passes to their defensemen to kill additional seconds. Ottawa surrendered just one power-play goal in 12 tries in the past two games (and scored one shorthanded goal). The edge right now belongs to Ottawa.

Background:
Probably the biggest storyline as far as the media was concerned centered around Matt Cooke and Erik Karlsson. The two collided Feb. 14 in Pittsburgh and Cooke’s skate blade cut Karlsson’s Achilles tendon. Karlsson missed a little over nine weeks with rehab, but returned a few game prior to the start of the playoffs.

Progress:
Both Cooke and Karlsson said they were over the issue. Even the Senators fans – who booed every time Cooke touched the puck in their final regular-season meeting on April 22 – didn’t seem to notice Cooke on the ice in Game 3.

Verdict:
No one cares anymore.

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