The Penguins arrived in Canada's capital Saturday with a clear purpose and a clearer plan: End this Stanley Cup playoff series with the Senators as quickly as possible, and do so with more of what succeeded in the first couple of games:
1. Superb special teams
2. Star-power scoring
3. Solid if unspectacular defense and goaltending
If anything, that last one actually could use an upgrade, given the late fade in the 4-3 Game 2 victory Friday.
“I think we've done a pretty good job for the most part, but there are a few little things we'd like to correct,” Sidney Crosby told reporters after an optional practice at Scotiabank Place. “You want to be more sound defensively, but you don't want to sit back. You want to spend most of your time in the attacking zone.”
Sounds about right.
Sounds eminently doable, too.
If Tomas Vokoun's primary shortfall is pucks bouncing around at his feet, he'll cope just fine. He still has conceded only four goals on 58 shots — a .931 save percentage — and he's still the no-brainer choice to stay in net. Spare me, please, any premature calls for Marc-Andre Fleury. When it's his time, we'll all know.
The defense wobbled a bit, too, but subbing Mark Eaton for Deryk Engelland would go a good length toward addressing that.
There are answers.
For the Senators, not so much.
You know, when the Penguins annihilated the Islanders, 5-0, in Game 1, the following appeared in this space: “These Islanders won't run and hide. Anyone who thinks they will wasn't paying attention in the regular season to the NHL's seventh-highest scoring team. They're fast, tough and resilient.”
The Senators have shown their own resiliency, but there's a reason I haven't written anything in that vein in this series: I just don't see another gear for this Ottawa team at this time against this opponent.
The big news here Saturday was that Jason Spezza, the Senators' top offensive threat when healthy, declared himself “ready” to return for Game 3 after a four-month absence due to back surgery. It'll feel even bigger, no doubt, when he's introduced to the Scotiabank Place crowd after a couple of rousing anthems from that magnificent singing Mountie, Lyndon Slewidge.
But Spezza resumed skating with the team just last week, and his only meaningful contact since his herniated disk was addressed Jan. 27 has been a few days of sparring with the healthy scratches.