by Tony on 05/17/09 at 02:08 PM ET
My usual playoff series template just doesn’t look right this time around. Yet.
The Carolina Hurricanes are among the most unheralded and underappreciated teams in the NHL. You know, with them located down yonder in Raleigh and all. But what Penguins fans will see once this series is over, win or lose, is a group of players with a lot of chemistry together and a certain level of tenacity that, quite frankly, is overlooked. Just ask the Devils and Bruins about that.
Just a couple things right off the bat: You won’t find any “Staal vs. Staal” references, nor will you find any “Cole vs. Orpik” references. Both have been beaten to death.
Some keys to the series:
- Cam Ward - Ward is the wild card, the entire series swings on his performance, in my view. Why, you may ask ?? Because perhaps as much as any other goalie in the last few years, Ward just seems to have the Penguins’ number since his arrival in ‘05. Ward is 9-3-1 vs. the Penguins. That includes his 1st NHL win on Oct. 7th, 2005, when he stoned Palffy, Lemieux and Crosby in a shootout (yeah, I was there). If Ward continues his good fortunes against the Penguins, he’s going to make things quite difficult.
- Special Teams - Carolina’s special teams during the regular season were were in the lower half of the NHL, with their powerplay ranked 18th and their penalty kill at 19th. However, their penalty kill has done an exceptional job in the playoffs, killing off penalties at a 90.7% clip, not to mention recently against a damn good powerplay team like the Bruins. So while the Penguins’ powerplay may be finally starting to come to life, we’ll have to see if the Canes’ penalty kill can continue keeping the puck out of their net.
- Faceoffs - While the Canes as a team were ranked tied for 8th in the NHL during the regular season in faceoff percentage at 51.3%, this important facet of the game comes down to one guy, and that’s Rod Brind’Amour. As he’s been doing throughout his career, Brind’Amour once again led the NHL with a 61.0% win percentage. You can bet that the Canes will have Brind’Amour out there on every crucial faceoff.
- Defense - Joni Pitkanen was once regarded as one of the best young defensemen in the NHL. Well, he’s been around the NHL block a few times now, with stops in Philly and Edmonton before landing in Carolina this season. But while Pitkanen’s offensive talents are still quite strong, look for the Penguins to target him in this series, much like they did in the Flyers’ series with Kimmo Timonen. They have a wealth of offensive defensemen, such as Joe Corvo (14 goals) and Anton Babchuk (16 goals). But look for the Pens to take advantage of those offensive defensemen’s defensive liabilities.
- Offense - Another very sneaky aspect of this team. Ten players scoring in double figures. Outside of Eric Staal, no big names, nothing flashy, just a group of quick, tenacious skaters. Staal is obviously the ringleader, with 40 goals this season. I’d expect Rob Scuderi to be matched up on him as much as possible, much like his matchup vs. Alex Ovechkin in the Washington series. But the Pens would be smart not to take the rest of these forwards lightly. Ray Whitney has been one of the most underrated forwards in the NHL for quite a long time. Tuomo Ruutu has had a career year with the Canes with 26 goals. And you can’t forget wingers like Chad Larose, Sergei Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen, who have scored some huge goals during this playoff run.
This is not going to the fairly easy series that some in the hockey blogosphere seem to indicate. The Canes, for whatever reason known but to the hockey gods, just play the Penguins tough every time they match up. This series should be no different.
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Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
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