Yes, it's back from the dead for the playoffs! Hopefully I'm not too rusty...let me know what you think guys :)
What you've missed
Beginning the season with very low expectations from almost everybody following hockey, including their own fans, the Ottawa Senators have been the most surprising team in the NHL. Their work ethic and never say die attitude can in no small part be attributed to their new coach, Paul McLean, who I honestly think should be a Jack Adams finalist when awards are being decided.
Not to be forgotten, several key players also stepped up and had huge seasons. Jason Spezza has gone a long way to silencing his critics with more than a point per game pace and over 30 goals to boot. After a challenging 2010-2011 season marred by injury, Daniel Alfredsson reached the 20 goal mark for the 13th time in his 16 NHL seasons. And Milan Michalek led the team in goal scoring with 35, a large number of which came on the road, which will be important given the Sens 8th seed.
But, by far, the Sens MVP this season has been Erik Karlsson. He has 78 points this season. 78!! He's quite easily become the highest scoring D-man in a single season in Ottawa Senators history, and he holds a 25 point lead over Brian Campbell and Dustin Byfuglien who are tied for 2nd in defensemen scoring.
Over the last week, however, the Sens have run cold, going 0 for 3 against Carolina, Boston and New Jersey. This has put them in 8th place in the East on a collision course with the conference champions, the New York Rangers.
Sens won the series 3-1
29/10/2011 - Ottawa 5, Rangers 4 (SO)
09/11/2011 - Rangers 3, Ottawa 2
12/01/2012 - Ottawa 3, Rangers 0
08/03/2012 - Rangers 1, Ottawa 4
- Peter Regin has been out since December and will not return with an injured shoulder.
- Chris Neil took a nasty fall at practice this week and did not play in the last game of the season, however he is expected to be ready for the playoffs.
- For the Rangers, Steve Eminger has been out with an ankle sprain since mid-March, Mats Zuccarello underwent wrist surgery and is not expected back for the 1st round and Michael Sauer remains out with a concussion indefinitely.
Projected starting lineups:
Phillips-Carkner (or Gilroy)
The Scouting Report
Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik are enough to give any opposing team fits - when they are both on their game, that is. Gaborik is as pure a goal scorer and sniper as you will ever see, and Richards makes plays happen in the offensive zone. Rookie Carl Hagelin is the grit on this line, but he's also got tremendous speed and can burn you down the wing.
However, there have been times this season when the first line has gone quiet, and the rest of the team struggles to pick up the slack (this should sound familiar to Sens fans...). Ryan Callahan is a heart and soul guy, very underrated, but his line also has a tendency to run quiet. Some of this must be attributed to the youth - Derek Stepan is 21 and Artem Anisimov is 23. How they will perform with a combined 11 games of playoff experience will be key.
Having said all of that, the Rangers' strengths lie in having a very capable group of grinding, defensive-minded forwards, a rock-solid D corps and a goalie that can single-handedly win the team tight games. Ruslan Fedotenko has big game experience - winning cups in Tampa and in Pittsburgh - and he has a history of showing up for the playoffs ready and willing to take on a big role. Mike Rupp has more than enough sandpaper and size to muscle the opposition off the puck in the corners. Dan Girardi is arguably one of the best shutdown D in the entire league and will likely be on the ice whenever the Spezza line comes out. And Henrik Lundqvist is a serious contender for the Vezina trophy this year.
In short, the Rangers win their games not by a wild run and gun game, but by playing a strong team defense and relying on their A-grade talent to give them a lead to defend.
Keys to Victory
- Huge effort on specialty teams. Playoff hockey is tight and chances will be hard to come by. The Sens PP has been very hot at times and also very cold at times. The Rangers will not give you a lot of even-strength chances, so capitalising on the PP will be huge. The PK will also have to be on its game to stop the likes of Richards and Gaborik.
- Score early and start strong. The Rangers love playing with a lead and stifling teams in the 3rd period. Ottawa has not started games well, but instead have been pretty good at coming back from a deficit in the 3rd this season. That recipe probably won't work here, especially without the advantage of home ice.
- Use the psychology. Ottawa is the only team in the East that Lundqvist has a losing record against, and the Sens won 3 out of 4 meetings between these two clubs including a game at MSG. In many ways, being the underdog while having the Rags number all season should give the Sens confidence in being able to supply the upset of the 1st round.
- Connect on that first pass. Ottawa is at their best when the breakout is fast and they are breaking through the neutral zone with big speed. Conversely, the Sens are at their worst when they are held up in the neutral zone and they get into a bad habit of not moving their feet. Despite his big season points-wise, Karlsson is relatively untested in the playoffs and it will be his ability to move the puck under intense pressure that will be a big factor.
The X Factor
I'm going to make a bold prediction here...Kaspars Daugavins is going to be this year's Sean Bergenheim. He has a remarkable amount of hustle on the puck and battles hard in all 4 corners of the rink. Despite limited opportunities, his touch around the net at times this year has been superb. However, his one weakness is that he turns over the puck. If he can work on that and also deal with the increased pressure of the playoffs, watch out. Look for him to be tried on Spezza's wing at some stage.
- Brian Boyle has 4 points in 4 games.
- Marian Gaborik has 6 goals in 8 games.
- Daniel Alfredsson has 5 goals and 9 overall points in 6 games.
- Jason Spezza has 8 points in 6 games.
GO SENS GO!!!
Season preview, part four: The Contenders
2 days ago