Well, that wasn’t easy.
And I’m not talking about Pierre Dorion’s struggle to get a high-five or hug after his Ottawa Senators clinched a first round series victory over the Boston Bruins.
Yes, for only the second time in 10 years, the Senators have reached the second of the playoffs, but it was a struggle getting there.
Every one of the six games versus the Bruins was decided by one goal and four of the games went into overtime and really.
The puck possession metrics mirrored the tightly contested scores.
It was a series that could have truly gone either way and although there was a significant disparity heading into the series regarding the underlying possession metrics, the Senators were able to overcome this difference thanks to the injuries that afflicted the Bruins’ blue line and the performance of their captain, Erik Karlsson.
Not only did Karlsson tally six assists, the Senators (per NaturalStatTrick.com) generated 56.7-percent of the shots, 70.0-percent of the goals and 53.15-percent of the scoring chances when Erik Karlsson was on the ice at five-on-five.
Having already won two Norris Trophies and meriting last year’s and this year’s as well, it’s hard to imagine Erik Karlsson was capable of taking his game to another level, but not only did he single-handedly dominate the Bruins with his point production and puck possession, he did it while essentially playing on one leg.
Karlsson admitted at the conclusion of the series that he had been playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel and was receiving injections to dull the pain.
“I’ve been playing on shots here,” said Karlsson, who admitted he was having trouble moving to his left. “It’s frustrating because you’ve worked so hard all year, but it’s better now and by Thursday it should be pretty much back to normal,” he said.
He suffered the injury blocking a shot during the Senators’ March 28th game against the Philadelphia Flyers – which caused him to miss three of the Senators’ final five regular season games.
Karlsson believes he will be good to go by game one on Thursday versus the New York Rangers.
Every extra day of rest matters for Karlsson since the Senators will be relying on him to be at his best if they are to have any hope of moving past the Rangers who are an entirely different animal from the Bruins.
Here is a look at the two teams’ regular season statistics and how they match up:
|PP (Rk)||PK (Rk)|
|Senators||17.0 (T-23rd)||79.7 (22nd)|
|Rangers||20.2 (T-10th)||79.8 (T-19th)|
It feels like it’s been a hell of a long time since their seven-game 2012 series when Brian Boyle rabbit punched Erik Karlsson and Matt Carkner and Chris Neil exacted revenge. Kyle Turris’ iconic OT winner from game four is a lasting memory and it also represents the last time anyone has seen or heard from Jim O’Brien.
In 2012, it was a tightly contested series and I don’t expect anything different now.
On the surface, the teams’ numbers are eerily similar, but unlike the Bruins, the Rangers’ don’t appear to have any significant advantage over the Senators in the underlying possession metrics.
Although Boston’s clear advantage over the Senators was mitigated thanks to key injuries to David Krejci and three of their top four defencemen missing time due to injury, the Rangers problems seem to be caused by their personnel or their system. Hell, maybe it’s probably both.
One of the Rangers’ obvious shortcomings in recent years has been their blue line and overreliance on traditional defencemen like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, but due to the emergence of players like Nick Holden and Brady Skjei as well as their trade deadline addition of Brendan Smith, who has been a decent possession player in the past, I assumed the Rangers’ underlying metrics would improve.
I was wrong.
After the trade deadline, the Rangers’ possession metrics continued to be bad as they were beforehand.
Here are the Rangers’ numbers following the NHL’s trade deadline on March 1st:
The numbers lead me to believe that the Rangers play a conservative, counterattack style that preys on the opposition making mistakes and overly relies on their Hall of Fame goaltender to take them as far as he can go.
Against the Canadiens, the Rangers’ puck possession woes continued (47.33 CF%), but Henrik Lundqvist bailed out his teammates by stopping 95.2 of the opposition’s even strength shots.
Playing into Ottawa’s advantage is that the Rangers lack an elite forward trio like Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak that can take over shifts at will and hem the Senators into their own end.
According to Corsica.Hockey’s data, the Bergeron line posted the following numbers at five-on-five:
Although the Senators did a good job of obstructing shots and forcing rushed shots that missed the net, Patrice Bergeron created a matchup problem whenever he and his linemates stepped onto the ice.
The Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci were often tasked with the responsibility of keeping this line in check, the pairing did a lot of bending, but they didn’t break as often as the numbers suggested they should have.
Again via Corsica.Hockey’s data, here’s how Ottawa’s second pairing fared at five-on-five:
The Senators only gave up two goals to the Bruins with this pairing on the ice at five-on-five, but it could and should have been a lot worse. Fortunately, the Rangers lack a centre of Bergeron’s calibre, so the hope is that this pairing can get some easier minutes and not face the same exposure risks.
Away from Bergeron’s line, the Senators had success taking advantage of Boston’s lack of depth, but the Rangers unquestionably have more depth up front.
Granted, with the exception of the Fast-Lindberg-Grabner line, none of the Rangers’ combinations really imposed themselves on Montreal.
During the regular season however, the Kreider-Stepan-Zuccarello line was quite successful, but they sputtered in the first round against the Canadiens.
A lot of media attention is going to focus on the Derick Brassard versus Mika Zibanejad narrative, but this is where the attention should be. For the Senators to have any success, they need the Stepan line’s playoff struggles to continue, so this is probably the trio you want to target and match Erik Karlsson up against.
Of course, this means that the rest of Ottawa’s defensive pairings would have to hold their own and guard against the Rangers’ strength and speed on the wings. Given the mobility and speed of some of the Senators’ defencemen, this is obviously a concern. It isn’t an insurmountable task to overcome, but expect a conservative series where the two teams patiently wait to counterattack and create oddman rushes.
If they can continue to shut down Stepan’s line and Craig Anderson has a bounce back series, I really like Ottawa’s chance to advance to the third round.
Of course, if Henrik Lundqvist stops more than 95-percent of the even strength shots and saves a disproportionate volume of scoring chances, it may not matter.
Prediction: Senators in seven games