Scouting the Senators
Ottawa Senators (43-31-8, 94 pts.) vs. Penguins (47-27-8, 102 pts.)7 p.m., Wednesday, Mellon Arena
Senators projected lines
Dany Heatley — Jason Spezza — Randy Robitaille
Cory Stillman — Antoine Vermette — Shean Donovan
Nick Foligno — Dean McAmmond — Chris Neil
Christoph Schubert — Cody Bass — Martin Lapointe
Synopsis: Major shuffling was precipitated by injuries to captain Daniel Alfredsson, second-line center Mike Fisher and solid role player Chris Kelly, who combined for 74 of the Sens’ 261 goals (second in NHL). Don’t be shocked if Alfredsson (neck, knee) defies his prognosis and makes a late-series appearance. Vermette, a longtime winger, stepped nicely into upgraded role at center. Heatley (six goals vs. Penguins this season) and Spezza (58 assists) are elite players. Stillman, 34, has struggled since a trade from Carolina but has playoff pedigree (26 points in 25 games helped ‘Canes win Cup two years ago). Lower lines are not as threatening as they were last year, though Schubert’s still a threat to hurt people. Neil (201 PIM, sixth in NHL) also a head hunter. Sens led league with 18 short-handed goals. Alfredsson had seven, McAmmond and Vermette three apiece. Both special teams units are middle of the pack (18.3 percent PK; 81 percent PP). One other note: The Senators, giving fuel to the notion they are a fragile bunch, had the third-worst winning percentage in the East when trailing after first period (5-20-3, .179), though one of those wins was in their most recent visit to Mellon Arena.
Best player: Heatley, plus-33 on season.
Who’s hot: Vermette, 9 G, 6 A in past 13 games.
Who’s not: Donovan, no goals in past 40 games.
Mr. Clutch: Heatley, 8 GW goals.
Underrated: Schubert (187 hits) plays defense on PK and PP.
Underachiever: Stillman, 3 G, minus-8 in 24 games with Sens.
Iron man: Heatley, 21:44 per game.
On the draw: Vermette wins 57.6 percent of faceoffs.
Senators projected defense pairs
Wade Redden — Anton Volchenkov
Chris Phillips — Mike Commodore
Brian Lee — Andrej Meszaros
Synopsis: This unit is not as good as it was last season, having lost the puck-control skills of Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing. Those two provided a nice complement to thumpers Phillips and Volchenkov — who hammered the Pens’ top forwards and remain formidable. Penguins players have immense respect for Phillips. Coach Bryan Murray likely will keep Phillips and Volchenkov apart, pitting one against Evgeni Malkin, the other against Sidney Crosby. Redden’s game has mysteriously slipped.
Best player: Phillips, top overall pick in 1996.
Stopper: Volchenkov, second in NHL in blocked shots (209).
Who’s hot: Volchenkov, plus-7 in past 10 games.
Who’s not: Redden, 35 games without a goal, minus-3 in that span.
Who’s he? : Lee was a first-round pick (ninth overall) in ’05, called up late in season and adds skill and speed.
Underachiever: Commodore, 2 points, minus-9 in 26 games with Sens.
Iron man: Phillips 22:29 per game.
1. Martin Gerber
2. Ray Emery
Synopsis: Gerber started final six regular-season games and likely will start Game 1, but don’t be surprised if the mercurial Emery — blamed for problems in Ottawa’s dressing room — finds his way into the series, maybe real soon if Sens lose Game 1. Murray would be crazy not to use him. Emery had a 2.01 GAA in the playoff series against the Pens last season and stopped 32 of 35 shots in his most recent game against them, a 4-3 victory Feb. 23 at Mellon Arena. This is one team Emery has reason to be ultra-confident against. Gerber, 33, has good lateral quickness but a shaky glove hand and no playoff pedigree (1-1 in eight games, 3.48 GAA). He gives up a ton of juicy rebounds, which, combined with an underachieving defense, is a potentially lethal habit.
Synopsis: He’s sixth on the all-time wins list with 620 but has never won a Stanley Cup. He’d never gotten out of the second round until last season, when he took Ottawa to the Stanley Cup final before losing to Anaheim. Murray, 65, then moved into the front office as GM. But after a stretch in which the Senators — who’d started the season 15-2 — lost six of eight and 14 of 21, he fired coach John Paddock and took his place with 18 games left in the season. Since then, Senators are 7-9-2. Armed with a bit of a persecution complex, Murray didn’t have to look far for a legitimate psychological ploy in this series. The Penguins gave him one with their less-than-stellar effort in the season finale against Philadelphia, a loss that assured them of facing the Senators instead of the Flyers.