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Scouting the Enemy - Game 1

The Sens Army Blog is one of the more solid Senators blogs out there.  In efforts to get a better grasp on what the team is going through and what the Penguins can expect in game one, Peter from Sens Army Blog was kind enough to answer a few questions.  You can read my answers to his questionshere.

1. Daniel Alfreddson - I saw the hit but what exactly happened?  What is his status for the playoffs?

Alfie was cutting into the slot with his head down, and Mark Bell came around from behind him to hit him with a shoulder to the head. Alfie's helmet flew off, and his head hit the ice pretty bad. Afterwards, head coach Bryan Murray said he could be out "for weeks" with what's being called a head/neck/knee injury, but if you were to ask my co-blogger Ben, he's betting on a heroic comeback for the start of first round. Alfredsson's also been nursing a lingering injury all year (maybe his hip), and that's been evident in the last few weeks. A lot of fans, though, think that Murray's comments may have been tactics, and that Alfredsson could be back at some point in the first round (although that might just be hopeful thinking).

2. How detrimental do you feel home-ice advantage is to either team in this match-up?

Obviously, playign in front of your home crowd can be an emotional boon, and teams sometimes play better with the proverbial seventh man helping them out. There is a school of thought that says it's better to start on the road because if you steal a game there you arrive at your home rink essentially starting a best-of-five, and I'd be inclined to agree with that mentality. If the Sens can win just one of the first two games in Pittsburgh, they'll have stolen the home-ice advantage. Although I'd love it if they won both of the first two games...

3. The Senators have, for lack of better terms, more or less limped into the playoffs.  They started the season off really hot but have since struggled.  What do you attribute to this decline?  Did a coaching change bring poor morale to the club?

Some people might think the coaching change was the reason for the Sens' poor performance in the last half of the season, but the causality is actually the other way around (Sens poor play made coaching change necessary). I think a lot of players at the start of the year were trying to win the Stanley Cup in September, October, and November, and then they realized the playoffs were a long way away; the regular season is always a long run for a team coming off a Stanley Cup Final loss. Under the old head coach, John Paddock, players never knew what to expect. It seemed role players were lost and uncertain, and they were given little to no ice time. The big three of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley were over-used, and became tired too early in the season--and that fatigue still concerns me. Most distressing to me was the handling of the goaltenders. It seemed Paddock wanted to give Ray Emery every chance to earn the starting job, but he wasn't going to give Emery too many games in a row. There wasn't a system to deciding who was going to play, and when Paddock finally implemented one--win and you're in--no one liked it at all. Bryan Murray has decided to go with Gerber, for better or for worse, and I think the players are finally feeling a little more comfortable under Murray. You can really see changes in the play of individuals like Dean McAmmond, Andrej Meszaros, Shean Donovan, and Antoine Vermette, and I think Murray is responsible for their improved play.

4. What are the strong points of the Senators' game?

As the highest-scoring team in the league, this group of players can score goals in bunches. Although the losses of Alfredsson and Mike Fisher hurt our offence, Vermette has stepped it up in the last week, McAmmond is going to get more ice time to show his offensive flair, and Cory Stillman is back from his injury. Those three, along with Heatley and Spezza, will provide much of the offense, and defencemen like Meszaros, Wade Redden, Brian Lee, and Christoph Schubert (when he's back there) will have to offer some production from the back-end if this team's going to get enough scoring. Other than that, the defence corps is more physical this year, with playoff warrior Mike Commodore and veteran black ace Luke Richardson stepping into the roles of Tom Preissing and Joe Corvo from last season, and Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov still around.

5. What about the weak points?

In the regular season, just about everything was weak for the Sens. The defensive play was taking a beating from fans and the media, with both forwards and defencemen shirking their defensive responsibilities. Neither goaltender has looked consistently decent since the 20-game mark, and weak goals at inopportune times have deflated the team. Leadership without Alfredsson or Fisher will be difficult, and goal scoring won't be a cake-walk without them, either. Although our d-corps is bigger, it's gotten slower, and much less adept offensively. The team has been known to take unfortunate penalties, and, although penalty killing is pretty good, they will pay the price against the Penguins if they keep taking penalties.

6. It's probably an annoying question but it has to be asked - Gerber or Emery?  Who do you think will get the start in net and who would you prefer?

I think Gerber will start in net, because that's who Murray's been going with since taking over. It might be misguided, and I think his decision has more to do with making a statement to Emery than rewarding Gerber for solid play because, quite frankly, Gerber's play has been anything but solid. Murray hasn't put the possibility of starting Emery out pf the realm of possibility, though, although that might be more tactical stuff so Pittsburgh isn't certain who'll start. Co-blogger Ben, however, is no doubt wishing Emery would start the series, and he--along with a lot of other fans and media--believe that however this series ends, Emery will be in net in the final game.