A marked contrast to our jumped-the-gun preview of Ottawa’s series against Boston, Ottawa has an actual chance in their first round match-up against the New York Rangers. The Boston Bruins and specifically Tim Thomas had Ottawa’s number in addition to stunning regular season numbers. New York, despite finishing better in the standings and winning the President’s Trophy, finished worse than Boston in most categories, both offensive and defensive. More importantly, they also finished worse than Ottawa in a few key categories.
Ottawa has a fight on its hands, but for the first time in the history of the modern franchise it has the chance to play the first round upset, and gain even more respect from a league that’s underestimated them from day one.
Ottawa’s got a goals-per-game of 2.96, good for fourth in the league, which compares to New York’s 2.71, which is 11th.
Ottawa’s powerplay is 11th at 18.2% compared to New York’s surprisingly pathetic 23rd place 15.7%.
Ottawa also outshoots New York 31.4 to 28.5 per game.
Their faceoff percentage is almost exactly the same, 50.1% to 50% in favor of Ottawa.
When comparing Ottawa to Boston, Ottawa only had an advantage on the powerplay. Against New York, their offensive advantage is much more pronounced, as they lead in every category. This will be particularly interesting to see against Henrik Lundqvist, who has been the regular season guy for New York but has never been that guy in the playoffs, and has had trouble against Ottawa.
New York’s offense looks great on paper, with elite scoring and two-way forwards throughout the lineup. Players like Callahan and Dubinsky are supposed to make their hay in the playoffs. One hopes that the pressure and “win-now” mentality gets to New York’s nine million dollar Brad Richards and seven million dollar Gaborik. If they don’t produce, and produce easily, they’re going to face some uncomfortable interviews.
Ottawa gets the most out of its league minimum rookies and sandpaper third liners, with key scoring from Colin Greening, Eric Condra, and Zack Smith. Those role players will need to help out Jason “Not Considered Elite for Some Reason” Spezza and Erik “Can’t Win the Norris Trophy Because He Doesn’t Play on the Penalty Kill” Karlsson. A player like Nick Foligno can prove his worth heading into a contract negotiation by being Ottawa’s Callahan.
The two teams’ defensive prowess is the exact opposite of its offensive matchup, with New York having better defense and goaltending in pretty much every category.
New York’s goals against per game were third best in the league at 2.22, while Ottawa is a terrible, terrible 24th at 2.88.
Likewise, New York’s penalty kill is fifth best in the league at 86.2% compared to Ottawa’s 20th at 81.6%.
New York’s shots against per game is sixth best in the league at 27.8 compared to Ottawa’s bruuuuuuuuutal 29th at 32 per game.
So, not unlike their potential matchup with Boston, Ottawa is going to need to outscore New York to overcome their own defensive deficiencies. It’s just not so dire as Boston’s impossible, invincible late game lock-downs. For example, New York is only 16th in the league when leading after the first period compared to Boston’s first place, and New York is eighth when leading after two periods, compared, again, to Boston’s first place. All of this leads to the possibility that Ottawa can pull off their cardiac kid routine.
New York has great young defenders Del Zotto and McDonagh (WHAT THE FUCK, MONTREAL), shutdown defence in Marc Staal, and seems-like-a-good-guy Dan Girardi.
Ottawa has several promising young defenders—Cowen, Karlsson—and the ghosts of several players who were once quite good in Kuba, Phillips and Gonchar. Together they might become a super ghost capable of turning in some great games.
Once again, New York looks better on paper, but that hasn’t quite translated to regular season victories against Ottawa.
Ottawa faces a similar situation to what they would have faced against Boston, except the volume is turned down ever so slightly. They face a world-class goaltender, a solid defensive system, and depth two-way forwards. For some reason, they’ve just ended up on the winning side of the ledger, where against Boston they’ve come out stymied and frustrated.
The powerplay still needs to get its mojo back, and Ottawa will need the Craig Anderson who steals a game or two compared to the one who allows a goal from center ice.
But most of all, Ottawa needs to take advantage of the crushing pressure on New York to be a Stanley Cup champion like RIGHT NOW. Ottawa’s been in New York’s shoes before. A pesky team who can score goals and occasionally get hot can be the fly in the ointment to what is otherwise a dream season. If Ottawa can steal a game against New York on the road—especially game one—they can then sit back and allow the New York media to go into hysterical mode and eat the team alive. Let Tortorella lose his head and scream at his boys while MacLean says lots of Zen things about building a foundation and how this is all gravy.
Every non-Ottawa publication is going to pick New York in five or six. But we know better: Ottawa has a real chance of pulling this thing off.