OTTAWA — For an offensive star, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby is shining so brightly at the other end of the rink against the Senators that his coach says he could one day add the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward to his collection of silverware if he wanted to.
And while Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was singing the praises of his captain Monday, his Ottawa counterpart, Cory Clouston, was busy talking defence, too.
More specifically, Clouston was sticking up for the Senators’ top offensive talents, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, who are coming under fire for their lack of production as the Senators trail the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series 2-1 heading into Game 4 Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS).
Ottawa’s top offensive duo, with each player still looking for his first goal of the series, has so far failed to make the kind of impact Crosby and fellow Penguins sniper Evgeni Malkin have for the Penguins.
“It’s not a competition between Spezza and Alfredsson against (Evgeni) Malkin and Crosby. We’ve got to make it more of a team emphasis for us,” Clouston said. “We’re not expecting them to match them. This is a team and that’s the only way we’re going to have success, is to have more of a balanced attack. We had it in Game 1, we haven’t had it since.”
It’s been Crosby, and to a lesser extent Malkin, that have led the Penguins back from a shaky goaltending display by Marc-Andre Fleury that cost Pittsburgh the opener to regain home-ice advantage courtesy of Sunday’s win in Game 3 at Scotiabank Place.
Many of the 20,119 fans in attendance were as frustrated as the Senators by the end of the game.
“Sid and Geno, they could be Selke Trophy candidates, they could win the trophy if that’s the trophy they wanted to win,” Bylsma said. “They’re very good defensively, they’re smart players. They can win battles and get out of those battles with the puck.”
Crosby notched the winner Sunday and also helped set up Bill Guerin’s insurance with some handy work in his own end, a sight becoming familiar.
He also made a diving save to divert a net-bound puck in Pittsburgh’s win in Game 2.
“Sid is also doing it in the defensive end,” Bylsma said. “Winning battles, jumping to loose pucks and getting out of the defensive zone with that ability to play defence. That’s a big aspect of minimizing a team’s ability to be effective against you playing in the offensive zone.”
Spezza, who, along with Alfredsson, does have three assists in the series, met with the media following an optional skate and insists it’s not time for the Senators to panic.
“We don’t feel we’re playing our best hockey, but we certainly haven’t been bad,” he said.
After managing just three goals in the last two games, the margin for error for the Senators could be greatly reduced with another loss Tuesday.
“It’s the most important game of our year, and it seems we’re going to say that after every game now,” said Spezza.
Crosby also delivered a big blow Sunday when he caught Alfredsson looking for the puck in his feet and dealt him a crunching hit on the forecheck that caused the Senators captain to briefly leave the game.
“It was a good opportunity to hit,” said Crosby, who has two goals and five assists in the series. “I don’t think he really expected me to be coming down from that position.”
That contributed to Alfredsson, who some speculate is playing hurt in this series, losing his cool and taking a kneeing penalty against Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik midway through the third period.
It’s been Orpik and defensive partner Sergei Gonchar who have also played a big part in helping to contain Spezza and Alfredsson.
Ottawa’s most effective player so far has been the third member of the top line, 24-year-old Dane Peter Regin, who’s probably not the player observers would have picked before the series to be their most dangerous offensive weapon.
But that’s exactly what Regin, with a pair of goals and an assist in the series, has been and the Senators could use others to follow suit.
“He’s elevated his game as much as or more than anyone,” Clouston said.
As a result, Clouston said that changes could be made in the Senators lineup to shake things up.
Veterans Jonathan Cheechoo and Shean Donovan both could be inserted Tuesday. Cheechoo, a one-time 56-goal scorer, finished the season in the American Hockey League, while Donovan played only 30 games this season, often serving as a healthy scratch.
“They both provide something different and we’re definitely looking at that,” Clouston said.
Senators goaltender Brian Elliott is also feeling the heat.
He didn’t look sharp despite winning Game 1, and while he hasn’t been bad since then, his .868 save percentage is the worst among all playoff goalies heading into Monday’s games.
“We’re not really worried too much about numbers,” Clouston said. “What we’re worried about is tomorrow night. He needs to be better and so does everybody else.”
The Senators have had a habit of being a streaky team this season, alternating between winning and losing runs. They set a franchise record with 11 straight wins before the Olympic break, so they’re counting on their ability to put together a string of victories to turn the series around.
“Just like we’ve dong all year. We’ve bounced back from bad games and bad stretches,” Elliott said. “You’ve just got to stay positive.”