The Ottawa Senators have climbed Mount Improbable and will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Interestingly, this is quite possibly the best case scenario for the Senators.
Ottawa has won the past three of their games against the Habs, outscoring them 13-5. What’s more, the only post-season the Senators have won since their Final berth in 2007 was in 2013…against Montreal. Is it safe to say that Ottawa has Montreal’s number in the playoffs? Hardly. But the Senators do have a philosophical edge of sorts and it’ll be up to the Canadiens to set the early tempo when the series gets underway on Wednesday.
In terms of matchups, it gets a bit more complicated.
The Canadiens have had trouble generating secondary scoring and will lean heavily on Max Pacioretty to put the biscuit in the basket. The 26-year-old wrapped the regular season with 37 goals, good for fifth overall, and he’ll have to be effective in the post-season as well. He was a league-leading plus-38 and he had 10 game-winners, plus he’s known to pepper the net with shots. Pacioretty will be the Canadien the Senators will have to contain, if all goes well on his return from injury. The Habs expect him for Game One.
Tomas Plekanec will join Pacioretty on the lead line and their one-two punch should prove dangerous. Plekanec had 60 points in 82 games. He also likes to shoot the puck and he had seven goals on the power play during the regular season.
Beyond the top tandem, the Canadiens have some considerable talent but the pool’s not as deep as it could be. Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk all joined the 20-goal party, but only three other forwards hit double-digit territory. The club should get some solid role-playing from the likes of Brandon Prust and Torrey Mitchell.
The Senators, on the other hand, have been able to roll four lines through a good portion of the regular season. The issue is the lack of top-tier stars and particularly explosive goal-scorers, but that might not be a problem given the sheer depth of the roster. The team had five 20-goal scorers, plus Bobby Ryan had 18 goals.
The Senators will look to the pairing of Mark Stone and Kyle Turris up front. Turris had 64 points in 82 games and was instrumental in helping rookie Stone emerge as an intimidating scoring threat. 50 of Stone’s 64 points came in the five-on-five situation, too, so that reveals a player with the ability to make things happen. Ottawa has rolled in either the injured Milan Michalek or Clarke MacArthur to fill in that pair, by the way, so that provides more options.
Defensively, the Habs will obviously look to P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov to get ‘er done. They’ll manage the show in almost all situations, from the power play to even strength. They’ll see major ice time and their possession numbers are great, so don’t bet against them if you can help it.
The Canadiens will also push the pairing of Jeff Petry and Alexei Emelin, the latter of whom had a barn-burner of a series against the Bruins last year. Petry is a top-drawer skater and Emelin anchors the pair with his stay-at-home play.
For the Senators, the blueline starts with Erik Karlsson. He finished the regular season leading all defenceman in scoring and he’s a serious contender for the Norris Trophy. Karlsson missed his defensive partner Marc Methot for 35 games, but things seem to be clicking along nicely now and that’s a good thing for Ottawa.
Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch, the latter of whom was scratched for 19 games, will account for the second pairing. They may not seem impressive on paper, but there’s a stability to Ceci’s play that should help.
In terms of netminding, it’s obviously Carey Price’s show in Montreal. Price is the reason for the Habs’ success and he will be the reason if they succeed in the post-season. He was tops in the NHL in all the important categories and he still saw plenty of rubber, especially playing on a team with a below-average puck possession metric. When the Canadiens got hemmed in their own zone, Price bailed them out. Simple.
The Senators, meanwhile, got some serious mileage and some serious morale from Andrew Hammond. The Hamburglar has been the story of the year and he has the opportunity to continue his astonishing ways in the playoffs. The 27-year-old has a 21-1-2 record as a starter and he’ll be riding a wave of momentum. He has a lot to prove, but he’s a cool customer and that could go a long way.
As the cliché goes, this series will come down to goaltending. It’s a Price versus Hammond deal and one goalie certainly has the edge if tradition counts. But this is the playoffs and anything can and probably will happen, so don’t count the Senators and Hammond out before the puck drops. This should be an interesting series, one that’ll likely hinge on one or two mistakes. The team capable of recovering from said mistake(s) will win.