The Ottawa Senators got their preferred playoff match-up as they will face the struggling Montréal Canadiens in the first round. It is the first ever series between the two rivals and will no doubt be one for the ages. The Montréal Canadiens have been one of the most surprising teams this season and have shown they are one of the best teams in the NHL. Carey Price is arguably one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and the Senators will have their work cut out for them. PK Subban is having a Norris worthy season and the Sens will have to find a way to limit his offense from the blueline. Max Pacioretty is having a career year and Brendan Gallagher looks to be like one of the top candidates for the Calder Trophy.
Ottawa is the underdog in the series against the division rivals and in order to win the series, a lot is going to be expected from the young roster. Below is a list of players who will need to step-up if the Sens want to have a deep playoff run:
1.) Erik Karlsson
For the Ottawa Senators to be successful this postseason, Erik Karlsson will have to be their best player. The former Norris Trophy winner returned from his Achilles injury with three games left in the season and while he struggled at some points, he had flashes of brilliance which he showed all of last season. The Senators have lacked offense all season and the return of Karlsson should certainly help against the Canadiens. Partnered with defensive defenseman Marc Methot, that top pairing will be against some of Montréal’s top offensive players in Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Lars Eller.
While Montréal has a very dynamic top two forward lines, their defense core also attributes to a lot of Montréal’s offense. Erik Karlsson will have to outshine PK Subban and Andrei Markov for the Senators to win and it will be an interesting match-up of two of the top young defensemen in the National Hockey League. The way Karlsson can control a game from the blade of his stick makes him one of the most dangerous players in the league and it will be interesting to see how the Canadiens attempt to handle him. If the Canadiens fail to shutdown Karlsson, then the Senators will have a good chance of winning the series.
2.) Craig Anderson
There is no question that if Craig Anderson did not get injured and continued to play the way he did at the start of the season, that he would win the Vezina Trophy this year. Anderson has posted career highs in goals against average (GAA) and save percentage (SV %) this season. Montréal was third in the Eastern Conference in goals for this season, so certainly for a team struggling in offense like the Ottawa Senators, it is especially important that Craig Anderson plays up to his standards. Craig Anderson has the ability to steal games for the Senators and that will likely be tested against the Canadiens.
3.) Daniel Alfredsson
Getting up there in age, there is questions as to whether this might be the last Stanley Cup run for the Senators long-time captain. While his offense has been steadily decreasing over the years, the amount of heart, passion, and leadership he shows certainly makes up for it. Daniel Alfredsson still has that game-breaking ability and will be relied upon to chip in with more offense then he has over this past season. Alfredsson has an impressive 105 points in 89 career games against the Montréal Canadiens.
If Daniel Alfredsson is able to improve his game in the playoffs and put the team on his back like Sens fans have seen many times before, then it will certainly help the Senators in their series against the Canadiens. If the Senators can regain any of their scoring touch from last season, then they can really expose Carey Price who had a really poor April.
4.) Kyle Turris
Kyle Turris has really struggled playing as the team’s number one center since the injury to Jason Spezza at the start of the year. Kyle Turris has had a hard time playing against other team’s top defensive pairings and while leading the Senators in points this season, Senators fans expected a lot more offensively from him. Kyle Turris will have his work cut out for him this postseason as it appears that Jason Spezza is still a few weeks away. He will likely face Montréal`s top pairing of Josh Gorges and PK Subban all series long and will be interesting to see how he plays as it goes on. Turris is incredibly gifted offensively and while inconsistent at times, he has the ability to score goals at big times and will be a big factor for the Senators. If Kyle Turris steps up his game during this series and plays up to his potential as a legit number one center, then he could be a big reason whythe Sens could beat the Canadiens.
Offense has been an issue all season long for the Ottawa Senators as they have failed to find any secondary scoring without the likes of Jason Spezza or Erik Karlsson in the lineup. Ottawa`s depth throughout the roster is some of the best in the league and a huge reason why the Senators continued to be successful as they ran into injury troubles. The team`s defense has been a surprise this season as Marc Methot and Sergei Gonchar have both had great seasons on the backend. In goal, Craig Anderson leads the way and he will likely be the biggest factor for the Senators only behind Erik Karlsson. If the team can get going and their best players play like their best players, then the Senators should stand a great chance against any opponents they face.
Follow me on Twitter @ConorTHW