The next chapter in the ‘Battle of Ontario’ will have to be written another day.
Thanks to a blown 2-0 lead that contributed to their 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to pick up the single point it needed to clinch the Atlantic Division’s third seed and the accompanying first round playoff matchup versus the Ottawa Senators.
Even if you don’t believe in the negative psychological impacts of playoff misfortunes from 13 to 17 years ago would have on this iteration of the Senators’ roster, it’s impossible to ignore a few realizations.
Even though this year likely represented the best opportunity to beat the Leafs and exorcise their past playoff demons, it’s not only great knowing that the Canadian Tire Centre will not feature a significant mix of Leafs fans, but the worst insecurities of this Senators fan base will not have to be played out on sports radio, television and social media for the next two weeks.
Instead, the Senators will be facing the Boston Bruins and they’re essentially an undesirably desirable team.
First thing’s first, the Bruins are probably a tougher out than the Maple Leafs. Not only will we be forced to endure Jack Edwards, innumerable Dropkick Murphys’ ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’ spins, the fist-pumping douchebaggery of Rene Rancourt, but the loathing of David Backes and Brad Marchand is going to be next-level by the end of this series.
It sucks, but holy shit, it also has the potential to be so fucking incredibly awesome at the same time. (As an aside, please don’t hold me to this by the end of the series if it’s a letdown.)
It gets better however, the Senators have actually fared quite well against the Bruins recently.
The Bruins have only won one of their last nine games against the Senators and two of their last 12.
The Senators have not only won each of their four appearances against the Bruins this season, but of the six goals that they allowed in those four games, only one was an even strength goal.
So where did those other Bruins goals occur?
They came with the Bruins on the man advantage with their power play clicked at an outrageous 62.5-percent success rate.
This is a small sample size of games obviously, but via NaturalStatTrick’s data, here’s how the Bruins fared versus the Senators at five-on-five during these four games:
In these four games, the Bruins had one more (24) high-danger Corsi attempt than the Senators’ 23, but the Bruins never scored on any of these shots whereas the Senators buried five of them.
It was Boston’s lack of five-on-five production that led to some closely contested contests.
Although the first meeting had a two-goal margin of victory, their following two games were essentially decided by one-goal (Note: the Senators added an empty net goal in their 4-2 victory on March 6th ) and their last tilt was decided by a shootout.
Guy Boucher’s system is tailored towards these tight-scoring games, but the table above helps fuel the argument that the Senators were pretty fortunate in their season series.
If there is any reason for concern, it’s that over the full course of the season, the Bruins actually had some of the possession rates in the entire league per Corsica.Hockey.
Despite these metrics, the Bruins’ goal totals weren’t commensurate with the volume of chances they were creating within the offensive end. In fact, their dismal shooting performance eventually culminated with Claude Julien’s termination on February 7, 2017.
Like clockwork, the Bruins’ started burying their chances the moment Julien was gone.
From February 7th on through their final 27 games, the Bruins had a goals for percentage of 56.7.
So if there is any reason for concern, it lies in whether the Bruins can maintain their strong underlying numbers while enjoying a normalization in their goals for rate. If they can, it will make for a tough series.
Comparatively speaking, here are the Senators’ underlying numbers at five-on-five:
The Senators’ season-long metrics don’t measure up to those of the Bruins, however whenever the Bruins faced the Senators during the season, the Bruins didn’t control the possession game relatively as much as they did against the rest of the league.
Fortunately, the Bruins lineup could be without two of their regular defencemen.
Krug probably had his best season as professional since entering the league in 2012 out of Michigan State University.
He finished second on the team in ice-time per game averaging 21:36 while setting a career high in points with 51. Although his -10 rating may draw the ire of antiquated talking heads, his underlying possession numbers were exceptional (58.0 CF%) but Bruins goaltenders sported an .897 save percentage when Krug was on the ice at even strength.
Brandon Carlo will also miss some time. The right-shot defenceman had a decent rookie season in which he tallied six goals and 16 points in 82-games. Like Krug, Carlo ate a lot of minutes. His average of 20:49 of ice-time per game was the third-highest mark on the team.
Neither player is expected back for the beginning of the series, but now that the Bruins have recalled prospect Charlie McAvoy from Providence, maybe there’s something to be gleaned about their long-term outlook through this promotion.
According to the line rushes at this morning’s practice, here are the Bruins pairings:
Chara – McAvoy
Liles – McQuaid
C. Miller – K. Miller
This is the blue line that the Senators need to take advantage of, especially early on when the absence of two of Boston’s top three guys are out of the lineup.
If the Senators can apply pressure on this defenders and force turnovers in the Bruins’ end of the ice, the burden will be on Tuukka Rask to stem the tide. Hopefully sustained pressure will get him off his game because Rask has played really well of late.
In his last six appearances of the season, Rask did not lose in regulation. He put up a 4-0-1 record, a 0.74 goals against average, two shutouts and a .971 save percentage.
The good news is that Craig Anderson has been equally as brilliant of late. Anderson was named as the league’s ‘first star of the week’ as he posted a 3-0-1 record, a 1.44 goals against average and a save percentage of .943 in the final week of the regular season.
On Ottawa’s blue line, the team’s first defensive pairing could be ready to return to the lineup.
Although Erik Karlsson will definitely return from his foot injury for game one, Marc Methot’s status is still questionable because he’s still recovering from his finger injury. If he cannot go, one of Fredrik Claesson or Ben Harpur will take his place.
According to Pierre Dorion, if Methot does play, game one would represent the first time in more than two years that the Senators’ lineup has been entirely healthy.
I suppose there are always going to be mild concerns about continuity and cohesiveness when players come back into the lineup after being out of the lineup for some time, but Ottawa’s health situation gives the coaching staff the depth and flexibility to create an optimized lineup. That Ottawa clinched home-ice advantage in the first round only helps.
Judging by the line rushes at this morning’s skate, Boucher’s relegated a lot of the team’s roster detritus to the press box.
It’s amazing how much Zack Smith’s game is marginalized thanks to the unexpected return of Clarke MacArthur. As great as it is that Chris Kelly’s been bumped from the lineup, it’s hard to envision Smith being too successful while playing on the fourth line with anchors like Pyatt and Wingels. A lineup where Dzingel draws in and replaces Wingels would give me the tingles, but this is a start.
It will be interesting to see how Bruce Cassidy and Boucher work their matchups, but by spreading his most talented wingers away from his best centres, if Cassidy elects to match up Bergeron against the Pageau line (and he should), Boucher will get his best offensive centres away from Patrice Bergeron where they can hopefully take advantage of Boston’s lesser lines.
If there is any significant concern, it lies in the Senators’ special teams’ play.
|Boston (Rk)||Ottawa (Rk)|
|Power Play||21.7 (7th)||17.0 (T-23rd)|
|Penalty Kill||85.7 (1st)||79.7 (22nd)|
With goals being so hard to come by in the playoffs, the performance of these special teams’ units looms large.
Tying into this is the fact that the Senators are one of the most undisciplined teams in the league. Only three teams average more than the Senators’ 10:20 PIM/GP. Even subtracting for major penalties, the Senators’ 299 minor penalties were still the league’s eighth-highest amount.
Right ahead of the Senators were the Boston Bruins who took 303 minor penalties. Hopefully this is where Alexandre Burrows’ reputation as a pest can benefit the Senators. If he can draw his share of penalties and keep a Zdeno Chara or a shitbird like Brad Marchand off the ice, all the better.
If the Senators get the Bruins into penalty trouble, they have to make them pay. Their opportunity to get into the second round of the playoffs hinge on it.
Prediction: Senators in six games.