At the start of the 2016-17 season, fans of the Boston Bruins said the season would be considered a success if the team was able to qualify for the playoffs. Well, the team is in the postseason for the first time since 2013-14, but fans are not satisfied. Now that the goal has been met, the Bruins’ faithful is calling for a first-round victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Senators/Bruins meet for the first time in the playoffs Wed in 90 years. They last met Apr 13, 1927. Senators won their last Cup that night.
— Murray Pam (@Pammerhockey) April 12, 2017
The Atlantic Division rivals met four times during the regular season, with the Senators coming out on top in each of the four games. Despite the Senators’ dominance in the win column, each game was closely contested, as the largest margin of victory was two goals.
This season, the Senators successfully employed a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, which is a frustrating style to play against. The Bruins were unable to find a way around the trap and struggled to produce consistent offense. If the Bruins hope to secure four victories and win the series, these are three things they must focus on.
Dump and Chase
Under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have been able to launch an explosive attack by using the speed and creativity of forwards like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The trap used by their opponent aims to shut down this style of offense by clogging up the neutral zone, making it almost impossible to move the puck efficiently. To counter this method, the Bruins may have to deploy a simple dump-and-chase game.
Attempting to skate or pass the puck through the Senators’ trap simply will not work. The Bruins will have to focus on breaking the puck out cleanly, gaining the red line and dumping the puck in deep. If they can get the puck to the red line, they can neutralize the trap game and go on the attack.
Once they get the puck deep, forwards will have to charge into the corners with physical play to win possession of the puck. They will have to turn to players like David Backes and Matt Beleskey to lead the physical game and create energy.
If the Bruins can gain control in the offensive zone, they should be able to take advantage of the Senators’ weak defense and generate quality scoring chances. The overall goal is to pin the Senators in their zone, play physically, create shots, rinse and repeat all series long.
The only time the Bruins should look to skate through the entire neutral zone is if they have a wide open lane, but those opportunities will most likely be few and far between.
Turnovers in the neutral zone are dangerous against any opponent, but when the Senators are in town, these turnovers can turn deadly. This is because the Senators have mastered transitioning these turnovers into instant offense and goals.
Attempting to skate through the neutral zone is exactly what the Senators want their opposition to do because they will sit and wait for the chance to pounce on a loose puck. To avoid these turnovers, the Bruins have to focus on puck management and making solid passes on their breakouts. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but if the Bruins give the puck away too often, they will pay for it.
Capitalize on the Power Play
The Bruins only netted six goals over the course of four games against the Senators this season. Of those six goals, five of them were scored on the power play. Since they struggle to produce offense at even strength, the power play will have to be running on all cylinders if the Bruins hope to win the series. If the power play unit frequently fails, this series could end very quickly.
The Senators do not get penalized too often, but when they do, their penalty kill has a tough time keeping the puck out of the net. Their penalty kill ranked 22nd in the NHL at 79.7 percent, a well-below-average mark. On the other side, the Bruins own the seventh-best power play in the league with a 21.7 percent success rate. Given the Bruins’ problems at even strength, every power play opportunity will be crucial, as the Bruins may have to rely on the man-advantage to produce the majority of their goals.
Anthony Pagliarulo is a Boston Bruins contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a Massachusetts native and a Worcester State University alumni. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @APags87.