With the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators set to meet in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time ever, what should fans expect from the series? Although the Habs come in as the number 2 seed they aren’t the hotter team coming into the series. They had a rough April, losing 6 out of 8 games at one point, but did bounce back with wins in their final 2 regular season matches.
The Senators head in to the playoffs with wins in 6 of the last 9 games. Even though they enter the postseason as the seventh seed in the East, they did so despite a season filled with injuries to some of their top players. The Sens are still without Jason Spezza, but Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson are both healthy after missing large chunks of the season. Don’t expect the Sens to be a pushover, in fact, the way these teams match-up, this series has the type of intrigue and enough elements to make it a classic.
A Series Filled with Storylines
Even though the Habs finished five spots higher than Ottawa, the two clubs have a lot in common heading into round one of the playoffs and they match up very evenly against each other.
Michel Therrien and Paul McLean have both done fantastic jobs behind the bench for their respective clubs, and both would make fine candidates for the Jack Adams Trophy. Therrien took a team that finished last in the East a season ago and managed to capture the Northeast division title, even though preseason predictions had this team struggling to even make the playoffs. McLean managed to keep the Senators afloat despite a rash of injuries and a struggling offense.
Last year’s Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson, returned from what was thought to be a season-ending injury in time to help the Sens clinch a playoff berth. He also helped the Senators beat the Bruins in the season finale which clinched the division title for Montreal. Karlsson will try to outshine PK Subban, this year’s leader in points among defenseman and a certain Norris nominee, if not winner.
The two young defenseman will both be aided by top-caliber defensive veterans as well. Andrei Markov and Sergei Gonchar will both be looked upon to play big roles for their teams. Gonchar is going into this postseason with 125 playoff games of experience and a Stanley Cup win in 2009. Markov doesn’t quite have the experience to match Gonchar, but the Habs will be happy knowing that their rearguard had 7 more goals and 3 more points than Ottawa’s, and that he had nearly double Gonchar’s powerplay production, 23 points to 12.
Another interesting match-up to watch going into the series will be the battle of the rookies. The Senators made a trade deadline deal to bring star rookie Cory Conacher over from Tampa Bay, while the Habs boast the dynamic rookie duo of Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Conacher finished the year ahead of both Habs rookies with 29 points, one more than Gallagher and two more than Galchenyuk. Ottawa will also look to freshmen Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg to carry some of the offensive load.
Will the Series Come Down to Goaltending?
Perhaps the most focus in this meeting will fall on the two starting goalies, Carey Price and Craig Anderson. Although he didn’t play a full season, Anderson had the better stats of the two tenders, in fact he led the league in save percentage at .941 and GAA with a 1.69 average. But even with those stellar numbers, Anderson only won 12 of the 24 games he started.
Price on the other hand didn’t finish the year with the most impressive numbers, a somewhat average .905 save percentage and an unspectacular 2.59 GAA. But more often than not Price was able to get the job done for his team, earning 21 wins in 38 starts. In fact, Price was the choice of Eastern Conference coaches to win the Vezina Trophy, in a Bob McKenzie poll for TSN earlier in April. His slide in the last part of the season probably ended those chances, however.
Even if Anderson does outshine Price in the first round, that won’t necessarily mean an upset for the Sens. Price may not have a difficult workload ahead of him, the Sens were 27th in the league with a mere 112 goals on the year, but they led the league with over 33 shots per game on average. That speaks to a real lack of quality scoring chances from Ottawa, and a lack of offensive potency. So while Anderson might have to stand on his head and steal game after game for the Sens to advance, as long as Price makes the saves he’s expected to make, it should be enough to help the Habs through the first round.
Rob has been blogging about the Habs since 2011 at MontrealHockeyTalk.com and can usually be heard before every Canadiens games on the MHT Pregame Show.