Again, going on the assumption that the Senators will qualify for the playoffs, it is time to look forward to potential matchups. Essentially, the Senators could play against one of 4 teams: Pittsburgh, Montreal, Boston or Washington. Other possibilities do exist (Toronto, Winnipeg) but are unlikely at this point. So I will look at the 4 most likely first round opponents and see if Ottawa lines up against one in particular any better than the others.
The Penguins have all but sewn up first place in the Eastern Conference, so Ottawa would have to drop to the 8th spot to face the Penguins.
Regular season: Since the lockout of 04-05 ended, the Senators have a record of 17-8-5 in the regular season against the Penguins. This year Ottawa is 0-1-1 so far, with one more game to come. Two of Ottawa’s wins have come after regulation, so Pittsburgh’s record against Ottawa is 13-15-2.
Playoff History: Ottawa and Pittsburgh have met 3 times in the post-season, all in the first round. Ottawa won the first time in 2007 en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. They beat the Pens 4-1 in that series. Pittsburgh swept the Senators the next season, and then in2010 they ousted Ottawa in 6 games.
Question Marks: Pittsburgh’s goaltending was incredibly shaky last playoff against the Flyers, as was their defensive zone coverage. Over the past year, the Penguins have made changes to bring in insurance (Tomas Vokoun) as well as shore up their own end (Douglas Murray)
Of Interest: Pittsburgh made two of the biggest splashes at the trade deadline, bringing in Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow to an already stacked forward unit. With their three top forwards out of the lineup, (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal), the Penguins continue to roll and are expecting the return of their big guns.
Prognosis for an Ottawa Upset: It would be tough for the Senators in their present state to run and gun with the Penguins. Adding a relatively healthy Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza would help, but the Sens would still be in tough, even if Fleury struggled again.
The Bruins are in a battle of their own for the Division title and the #2 seed in the East. This matchup could be the 2-7, or even conceivably the 4-5 series in the East.
Regular Season: Boston has had Ottawa’s number since the lockout. Ottawa is 17-29-6 against the Bruins including 1-11-2 since the calender turned to 2011. As much as you hear that these games are always close, only 4 of those 13 games were one-goal games. The Senators are 0-2-2 this season against the Bruins, with one game to play (the makeup game for the one that was postponed on Monday).
Playoff History: Ottawa and Boston have never met in the post-season
Question Marks: After losing out on Morrow and Iginla, the Bruins brought in Jaromir Jagr. However, the continuing health of Patrice Bergeron continues to be the biggest question surrounding the team. Depth on the blue line is another possible concern.
Of Interest: It would be a homecoming for a lot of Bruins players if they were to face the Senators. Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Chris Kelly and Kaspars Daugavins are all former Senators who now sport the Bruins’ colors.
Prognosis for An Ottawa Upset: All of the games this season have been close this season, and Craig Anderson has not played in any of them He could be the wildcard factor in a series that Ottawa seems to match up pretty well against, regardless of record.
As they sit right now, the Caps and Sens would be first round opponents in the 3 vs 6 series. The Caps are firmly entrenched in the 3 hole as the Southeast Division leaders.
Regular Season: The Senators are 13-13-3 against Washington since the previous lockout. They are 1-0 this season heading into tonight’s game with one more to play next week. Three of Ottawa’s wins also came in extra time so the record for the Caps is an identical 13-13-3.
Playoff History: You have to go way back to 1998 to find the last (and only) time these clubs met in the playoffs. Washington skated away with a 4-1 series victory in the second round on their way to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
Question Marks: Is this the real Washington Capitals team, or is it just a hot streak. Ottawa will find out over the next week just how well it matches up with the resurgent Capitals. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green are all on fire at the moment, and if they can carry that momentum into May then they will give their opposition fits.
Of Interest: Three curent Senators players played in that 1998 playoff series. Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips played for Ottawa and Sergei Gonchar was in the Capitals’ lineup that season. Caps head coach Adam Oates was a player for Washington as well. The only other active players who played in that series are Wade Redden and Marian Hossa.
Prognosis for a Senators Upset: These teams have traditionally matched up very close. Even in the standings, they are tied in points, and it would be a very entertaining series that would probably be a coin flip.
Geographically speaking, this series would be very interesting in terms of how many Habs fans gain access to Scotiabank Place, where in the regular season the crowd is traditionally split for these matchups. this could be a 2 vs 7 or even a 4 vs 5 series.
Regular Season: Ottawa is 27-20-5 since the lockout against the Habs, whose record against the Senators is 25-20-7 due to Ottawa’s 7 OT/SO victories. They split the season series 2-1-1 with each team winning their home games.
Playoff History: These divisional rivals have never met in the playoffs.
Question Marks: The Canadiens have been one of the biggest surprises to many (myself included) this season, but are the current struggles a sign of cracks in the foundation or a sign of a bigger problem, and are they just coming down to earth now. The goaltenders are struggling at a bad time, as they seem to be letting down after clinching a playoff spot.
Of Interest: If Karlsson can indeed come back, it could be a battle of the reigning Norris Trophy winner going up against the man he is going to have to take it back from next season. P.K. Subban is poised to be one of the top contenders to take it from Karlsson this year with the great season he is posting.
Prognosis for A Senators Victory: This one could come down to goaltending, and whether or not the Senators can get Carey Price off his game, because we have seen in the past week that it is entirely possible.
All in all, I think that the Senators would like to avoid the Penguins at all costs, but they would stand a fighting chance against anyone else they would come up against. Most of it hinges on the return of Spezza and Karlsson to go deep, but a first round victory without either one or both of their stars would not be entirely out of the question.
Some would argue that the Penguins should not be feared either, but with a healthy lineup they will be very tough to beat, expecially with the added experience and leadership of Iginla and Morrow. I don’t think Iginla would allow the Pens to get away from their game like they did last year against the Flyers.