I wrote this yesterday, before Boston’s 3-1 win over a lethargic Senators squad, with the intention of posting it when playoff seeding was finalized. But now, with the real possibility that the Senators will face the Rangers if they lose in regulation to New Jersey and Washington wins their remaining game, I figured I should probably just post this thing so it’s not all for naught. I’ll write another 1700 words about the Rangers if need be. So here you have our Epic First Round Preview Which May Never Happen:
And lo’, did our Lord and Savior Bryan Murray in his 187th year look upon what he had built and think: this is Good, or at the very least I expect us to be competitive and anything can happen in the playoffs and so on. For the Ottawa Senators were returned to the land of milk and honey, that place where it is rumored that each home date produces an additional million dollars in ticket revenue to say nothing of merchandise sales, and where people are compelled to descend upon James Street Feed Company so that they may drink beer from dirty taps and sup on a feast of deep fried somethings that do make one’s stomach churn mightily. And we did think back to the days of Cory Clouston and did weep at our foolishness. And we did laugh at the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fan base, who are cursed and rightly so, for they have not, nor will they, know such joy as playoff hockey.
But hark, the Beast that is before us is a strong and shitty one. Built for playoff hockey, armed with a defenceman that Ottawa spurned in favor of Wade Redden, and stacked from top to bottom with professional agitators, Murray knoweth this is probably the worst matchup for Ottawa. Hell, it’s bad for anyone. Even the better-ranked New York Rangers would be preferable. Our faith will be tested. But if we manage to stay awake on the bus ride out to Kanata we’ll give it our all and with laser pointers in hand will aim into the eyes of the Beast (Editor’s note: don’t actually do that.) and anyway we’ll be drunk.
Ottawa and Boston are ranked about as comparably as can be in goals-per-game, with Boston ranked third in the league at 3.18 and Ottawa fourth at an even 3. Boston’s 5-on-5 goals are a bit better at 1.32, which is again third in the league, compared to Ottawa’s 1.06, which is 10th. Boston’s powerplay is ranked 14th at 17.3% compared to Ottawa’s ninth at 18.5%–and that, ladies and gentlemen, is just about the only category you will find in which Ottawa has a statistical advantage over Boston. Boston is also ranked third in the league in shots per game, at 32.3 to Ottawa’s 31.3, good for ninth. Finally, Boston is the best team in the league in faceoff percentage. (Damn you Bergeron.) Ottawa is 15th.
Which is to say that we’d better hope Ottawa’s recent struggles on the powerplay are temporary. Boston outmatches Ottawa in every regard at even strength, and their G/G averages are only close because Ottawa spent so much of the early season dominating with the man advantage. Milan Michalek’s otherworldly shooting percentage, which tumbled in the back half of the season, needs to pick up. Karlsson needs to heat up again and rack up assists, to say nothing of starting to score goals again. And the depth scoring—Greening, Smith, Condra, Neil, Foligno—need to get back to where they were early on, scoring timely if not frequent goals. But more than anything, so much more than anything that it needs to be stated again, the friggin’ powerplay needs to start clicking. If they go 0-for-9 or something, they’re a turkey dinner.
Boston will be missing Nathan Horton to injury, lost Michael Ryder to free agency and Mark Recchi to retirement. Otherwise they’ll have their scary forward depth at full power. Faceoff invincibility is assured by Patrice Bergeron and it flows from there with grit and skill throughout. Lucic and Krejci are representative of the team’s all-around two-way play and go-to-the-net-itude. Pest Marchand is prepped to make Gonchar make that baby-with-gas face he makes, and sophomore Stanley Cup-ring-having Tyler Seguin (FUCK, TORONTO, WHAT THE HELL) will return to see if he can occasionally score a hat trick. Players like Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kelly extend the skill and two-way excellence all the way down.
Ottawa will not be missing anyone other than Peter Regin, who’s been hurt since 1978, and potentially Bobby Butler, who will probably be scratched. They will also hope that Boston forgets that Jason Spezza, he of the point-per-game play, is in the game.
Obviously Tim Thomas and the Bruins have had Ottawa’s number all year. Thomas is 4-1 against Ottawa this season with a .932SV% and 2.41 GAA. He’s also a ridiculous 23-9-2 all time against the Sens, with a .937SV% and 1.98 GAA. Thomas has done nothing but consistently stonewall the Senators, so we’re obviously all hoping he tweaks his groin and Ottawa ends up facing Marty Turco instead.
In Ottawa’s end, the team has lived and died, and will continue to do so, with Craig Anderson. Though the team has some options with exciting young players in Robin Lehner (who earned the team’s only win against Boston with a shutout this season) and Ben Bishop, Anderson is the team’s starter. He, along with the team’s powerplay, will remain the biggest influence on this entire series. Will he be the Anderson who faces 40+ shots and steals the game? Or will he be the Anderson who allows a goal from center ice or gets all mopey-faced when he wanders out of his net and bobbles the puck? I think he can be a game-changer, not just someone who “gives the team a chance to win.” But he’ll have to outduel the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe winner. Just keep Don Brennan away from him.
Team defense doesn’t look nearly so even handed as offense. Boston is sixth in the league with a 2.44 goals-per-game, and to find Ottawa you need to look waaaaaaaay down to 25th and their 2.86. Boston is also 11th in shots allowed per game at 29.6 and Ottawa is second worst in the entire league at 32.1. Perhaps surprisingly, Boston and Ottawa share similar penalty kills at 83.2% (11th) and 81.9% (15th) respectively. Also interestingly, Boston has the fewest overtime losses in the league with four compared with Ottawa’s 13th place 10 OT losses. Not sure how much can be read into this, but it being the playoffs you know there will probably be some overtime played, and Boston has a tendency to get it done in the extra frame.
Boston may be missing the recently re-signed Johnny Boychuk, who is more important to that team than a lot of people realize, which is I guess is the scenario in preparation for which they picked up defensive depth in Greg Zanon. They also have this guy Zdeno Chara playing 30+ minutes a night, who is apparently pretty good, and Dennis Seidenberg, who is one of the league’s best shot-blockers. Ottawa will have to try and exploit their speed against a team that at times can look like a wall.
Some other interesting (depressing) statistics: Boston is first in the league in winning percentage when scoring the first goal at .853%, and first in the league in winning when leading after one period at a mind-bending 91.7%. (Ottawa is 17th and 20th respectively). The second best team (Philly) is at only 86.7%. It’s not even close. Oh, and get this: Boston has won 100% of the games in which they were leading after two periods. Ugh. This team locks down like a motherfucker. Ottawa needs to get on the board early, and first. The cardiac kid routine isn’t going to work here.
The Senators’ defense is founded on Murray’s quasi-famous (in Ottawa at least) proclamation that the “other team should block our shots for a change,” which is why he let Anton Volchenkov go and signed the ghost of gnarly wizard Sergei Gonchar, who according to Wikipedia used to be one of the best puck moving defencemen in the league! Pretty cool. Erik Karlsson is running this shit at this point, dragging along his scrappy doghouse of veterans, giving Filip Kuba a good enough +/- to get him another contract and probably painting Chris Phillips’ house.
It’s sort of absurd to think that Ottawa’s chances in this series against the Boston Fucking Bruins will rest on the shoulders of a 180lb offensive defenseman, but it looks like that’s the case. He seems to feed on confidence, and he didn’t look out of place two seasons ago playing against Pittsburg. Here’s hoping that he saunters into this series against the defending champs with enough swagger to carry the fragile egos and puppy dog faces of veterans Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar, and surprises the Boston faithful. Let’s also hope Chara doesn’t Phaneuf-hitting-Da Costa the kid in the neutral zone and accidentally kill him on national television.
I don’t want to sound like the series is a foregone conclusion: Ottawa’s been surprising teams all season long, though they’ve come down to earth a bit in recent weeks and months. At the very least this will be an enormous advantage for Ottawa’s rookies, an experience for them to build on and an important step to establishing a winning culture in Ottawa’s dressing room.
With the Bruins’ propensity for edgy play, Ottawa might benefit from a few penalty calls, and their ability to steal this series will be dependent almost entirely on Anderson’s play and whether they can score on Tim Thomas on the powerplay. Other than that it’s all one game at a time. If they can get that split in Boston and then come home, then they’re off to the races. This is clearly a case of trying to out-score the opposition. They can’t clamp down and play tight playoff hockey—they’ll have to run-and-gun it and hope someone in our colors is still alive on the other side. If they try to beat the Bruins at their own game, which is to say spend the first period having Chris Neil take a run at Marchand and Matt Carkner overcompensating for the Bruins’ toughness, then the Sens will probably spend most of the game in the penalty box. Ottawa needs to play smart, not take the bait, and more than anything get shots on net. The rest will be up to Craig Anderson.
No pressure, dude.