Have you heard the news? The Sens have no chance in this series and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise. So that pretty much wraps that up. Objectively the Sens suck and will lose.
HA JUST KIDDING! Now let me outline some arguments in favour of the notion that the Senators are not screwed.
Argument By Way Of Match-up
Consult any Fancy Stat you care to name, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: The Bruins are good at the things that correlate with winning. During 5-on-5 play they generate more shots than anyone, and they give up fewer shots than anyone except Los Angeles. They have arguably the most effective line in the league in Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak/Backes, and they’ve got such effective depth that very few of their players could be considered a possession drag in anything other than a relative sense. Oh and Boston also has one of the most effective penalty kills in the league. Ottawa plays safe, well-structured hockey but they can’t really compete with Boston in terms of shot metrics or Expected Goals or any other nerd stat. This is why Boston is considered by most to be an overwhelming favourite in this series.
However, there is reason to believe that the Sens and The System™ pose problems for the Bruins that other teams do not. Over at WTYKY’s sister blog, TSN.ca, Travis Yost broke down some possible 1st round matchups by looking at head-to-head performance. Yost concluded that regular season success in terms of Corsi/shots (the terms are used interchangeably) or Head-To-Head goal differential is somewhat predictive of post-season success against a certain team, and that a combination of Corsi and H2H goal differential advantage is an even stronger predictor of success.
Well, the Sens have a non-trivial goal differential advantage against Boston and have played them to a near-draw in terms of Corsi (This is particularly remarkable when you see the Corsi advantage Boston holds over other playoff teams.) so you’d have to say the Sens have done something right against the Bruins this season. Personally, I think that Ottawa’s success is attributable to a combination of good neutral zone play and a defensive system that’s explicitly designed to prevent shots from the areas Boston gets to most effectively. In both cases, this advantage will only persist if Ottawa executes well. Luckily executing well is the thing that got Ottawa into this position to begin with.
Now, Pierre Dorion and Guy Boucher and pretty much every Senators player who has been asked has said that the playoffs are different and the regular season success means nothing, and in a way they’re right. However, I’d still start with matchup considerations if you’re looking for reasons to believe that Ottawa has a chance in this series.
Argument By Way Of Health
Boston is likely to be without Torey Krug for much of the series. Nearly half of Krug’s 51 regular season points came on the power play, so it’s safe to say that his loss will be felt at 5-on-5 and 5-on-4. In addition, rookie Will McAvoy will take Krug’s spot in the lineup and will have to be babysat by Zdeno Chara for much of his ice time.
Meanwhile, Ottawa will be nearly as healthy as possible going into this series. The returns of Zack Smith and Clarke MacArthur give Ottawa a scoring depth all the way down the lineup that they have not enjoyed all season, and even if Marc Methot doesn’t start Game 1, Freddie Claesson has shown himself to be an excellent defensemen in his own right during Methot’s absence. Oh and also Erik Karlsson is coming back.
TL;DR – Ottawa has all their good players and Boston does not.
Argument By Way Of Depth
Don’t get it twisted: Boston is a formidable opponent simply on the strength of their top two forward lines, who are some of the best lines in hockey. However, once you get out of Boston’s top 8 scorers, you get into players like Dominic Moore (25 P, 82 GP), Frank Vatrano (18 P, 44 GP), Riley Nash (17 P, 81 GP), and Tim Schaller (14 P, 59 GP). Drew Stafford has also been an effective deadline acquisition for Boston. For Ottawa to have a chance to win the series, they will need guys like Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, Alex Burrows, and Viktor Stalberg to outscore their “complimentary piece” counterparts. This is plausible because Bobby Ryan and Zack Smith are actually kind of good at scoring (or at least they used to be), and Burrows and Stalberg were literally brought in as ringers for just this situation.
On the defensive side of the rosters, Boston’s 2nd defense pairing of John-Michael Liles and Adam McQuaid are not known for their scoring prowess. The likely 3rd paring of Kevan (sic) and Colin Miller have produced modestly this season, although their Points per 60 Minutes rates are comparable to Chris Wideman’s. If Ottawa can get secondary scoring from defensemen like Freddie Claesson, Chris Wideman, and even Dion Phaneuf during this series as they have throughout the year, it will go a long way to mitigating some of the advantages Boston has at other areas.
Argument By Way of Goaltending
I will be straight up here: Tuukka Rask has not been good for the last two seasons. In fact, his year-over-year 5-on-5 save percentage has been steadily declining since 2014.
Meanwhile, Craig Anderson is in the middle of a season that would see him getting Vezina consideration if he’d played 60+ games this year instead of only 40. Tuukka Rask has won a Vezina trophy and a Stanley Cup, but it’s clear that he hasn’t been that player for years, and unless Rask turns back into that player overnight, Ottawa is likely to have a significant advantage in goal.
Rask could totally turn back into Vezina Rask overnight though. I don’t understand goalies.
Argument By Way Of Recent Form
Ottawa comes into this series playing some of their best hockey of the year (measured in terms of Fancy Stats). Boston comes into this series playing some of their worst hockey of the year (measured in terms of Fancy Stats). I’m not saying that it’s definitely going to persist, but it’s still a good time to be peaking.
Argument By Way of We Have Erik Karlsson And You Don’t
No breakaway. No penalty. No shot. Karlsson’s a pretty okay defenseman. pic.twitter.com/q3VdfZHv1S
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) March 7, 2017
Karlsson’s 15th goal of the season. #GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/7EtIhWApiH
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) March 28, 2017
WHAT. A. SHOT. ERIK KARLSSON! pic.twitter.com/ucZH6z0x2z
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) April 5, 2017
Sens fans seem to be feeling pretty confident going into this one, and who can blame them? The team is healthy, The System is systeming, Ottawa has Erik Karlsson and home ice advantage, and Boston’s a team that’s looked extremely beatable this year. Still, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that we’re all in for more than we bargained for. Boston’s got too much talent and they’re too well-structured to be anything other than an extremely difficult out. Even though Ottawa won all their games against this Bruins this year, Patrice Bergeron was outstanding in all those games. The Bergeron line figures to be the linchpin of the whole series. If Ottawa neutralizes Bergeron enough to keep his line off the scoresheet, they win; if not, they lose. Not helping matters is the fact that Boston figures to have the special teams advantage on both PK and PP.
Still, Ottawa’s coming together at the right time, and if this lineup can’t beat Boston with home ice advantage, when else would it ever happen?
Sens in 7
Good write-up, thanks for that. Enjoyed the podcast as usual. Shame you couldn’t have recorded after the reg season, but oh well. Planning one during the Boston series? Please do. Go SENS.
No promises re: the next podcast, but Chet and I will definitely try to record them more often during the playoffs.
In years to come the 2016/17 Sens should be held up as a prime example of how incomplete a picture any one particular set of analytics actually paints. Yes Ottawa has a horrible shot differential and CORSI and blah, blah, blah. But guess what? the vast majority of the shots Ottawa gave up this season came from very low percentage shooting areas, i.e. at the extreme of the perimeter. And, yes, that was by design of the all-knowing, all-powerful system (praise be the system). None of the so-called experts gave Ottawa a chance in this series. Of course, none of the so-called experts actually watched Ottawa play this year…they couldn’t have. They seriously couldn’t have come up with such dire predictions of doom if they’d bothered to watch even a half dozen games.
That, naturally, won’t stop them from giving all the credit for the Sens win in this series to Boston’s injury woes, and predicting an even more lop-sided Sens loss in Round 2. Gotta love being the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL doncha?
I thrive on their hate 🙂
We need our half-assed round two preview!
On the way!
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