Of all the series I’ve attempted to predict thus far, this one might be the toughest. On the surface, this should be a rout: The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champions, they have the best centre in the world in Sidney Crosby, and they just knocked off the top team in the NHL this season, the Washington Capitals. There are a few factors giving me pause, however. Let’s take a closer look.
Ottawa Senators (44-28-10) at Pittsburgh Penguins (50-21-11)
FF% at 5-on-5
Ottawa: 48.8 (22nd)
Pittsburgh: 51.2 (7th)
Starting goalie save percentage
Craig Anderson: .926
Marc-Andre Fleury: .909
Sportsbook series prices
By most of these measures, the Penguins should be the overwhelming favourite, and that’s not even considering Pittsburgh has home ice advantage, which comes with better match-ups and officiating bias. There are a couple reasons I think Ottawa will be far more competitive in this series than many predict, however. First: injuries. The Penguins will presumably be starting Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, despite the fact No. 1 Matt Murray appears ready to go after getting hurt early in the postseason. Despite Fleury’s decent performance in the playoffs thus far, if you take the whole season into account, Ottawa has a significant advantage in goal as long as the Pens stick with their backup.
The Penguins are also without their No. 1 defenceman, Kris Letang, and won’t have Trevor Daley to start Round 3. As the Bruins learned in Round 1, it can be a tough slog against the Senators when you’re missing your primary puck carrier.
At the end of the day, I do think the Penguins will win this series, but I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked to see Ottawa pull off yet another upset and make its second trip to the Stanley Cup final.