As the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens prepare to kickoff the first round of the playoffs tonight, here is a look at some of the most important storylines to monitor.
1. Andrew Hammond vs Carey Price
When your goalie is a leading candidate for the Vezina and Hart trophies, it’s safe to assume goaltending will always be an advantage. That is, unless the opposing goalie has a record of 20-1-2 and is putting together one of the most memorable goalie performances in recent memory. The goaltending storyline is truly exciting, but with Price’s experience, the Canadiens should hold the advantage heading into the series. However, Canadiens fans should be wary. A hot goalie can single-handedly win a series.
2. Erik Karlsson vs PK Subban
Karlsson and Subban are often compared to each other because of the similarities in their playing styles as well as their respective achievements to date. As such, everyone will be focusing on this matchup to see who comes out on top. Aside from being Norris Trophy winners, both log heavy minutes, anchor their defenses corps, and contribute on offensive. A look at their regular season stats shows just how effective they’ve both been this year. Two things that stand out are Subban’s improved plus/minus (+21) and Karlsson’s proficiency on the power play (30 points). Both will play key roles on special teams, and this might prove to be the deciding element in this matchup.
3. Return of the Max?
The availability of Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens leading scorer is arguably the biggest storyline of the series. According to recent reports, he is expected to miss Game 1. This is obviously a huge blow for the Habs. Of all the playoff teams, Montreal has the lowest goals per game average at 2.61. Losing their best scorer will leave them searching for offense, a position that has been all too familiar in recent years. If Pacioretty is out for any length of time who will step up in his absence? With the Habs, it will require an entire team effort.
4. Lars “X-Factor” Eller
The Canadiens need Eller to elevate his game like he did in last year’s playoffs. A solid playoff performance will more than make up for his struggles this season. Gaining a reputation as a regular season dud, but a playoff performer is not so bad…(it’s not exactly ideal, but I’ll take it!).
He has shown signs of a breakout in the last two weeks of the regular season, picking up points in 5 of the last 8 games. He was also the team’s best player in their finale against the Leafs, even though he didn’t register a point. Secondary scoring in general was a key to victory before Pacioretty’s injury, but has become even more crucial now that he will miss some time. Hopefully, Eller and others (i.e. Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Parenteau, Petry) can pick up the slack.
5. Extra Motivation: Nothing To Lose vs Revenge Factor
Both teams will carry extra motivation into this series. The question is, which one will win out? The Senators enter the playoffs as a team of destiny. After a slow start and being essentially written off from the playoffs, the team completed an improbable run and bulldozed their way to the #7 seed. In sports, the most dangerous opponent is one that has nothing to lose. However, the Habs will be carrying some swagger of their own. Since being bounced out by the Senators in 2013, the team has undergone some significant changes and will be looking to exact some revenge. If you don’t believe me, look here to see what Gallagher and Galchenyuk have to say about the 2013 loss.
When you think of huge rivalries, Senators vs Canadiens doesn’t really jump to mind. However, rivalries tend to be developed in the playoffs when the stakes are higher. This series has all the ingredients for a classic. May the best team win.