There are a lot of angles and viewpoints going into the Ottawa Senators’ first round playoff series with the Canadiens. Here are my 11 thoughts about the series and the key matchups and personalities before the series begins:
11. The Senators can not let Brendan Gallagher get under their skin. He is the biggest threat to get the Senators off their game and they must not succumb to his tactics.
10. The best way to effectively neutralize P.K. Subban is to stay off the PK. Not taking penalties, which relates to #11 above, means no power play for Montreal. Subban scored 7 goals and 19 assists while the Habs were a man up, and just 4 goals an 8 assists at even strength.
9. Gryba or Wiercioch? That is the big question when considering the lineup the Senators will ice. With the speed that Montreal forwards have, I would be inclined to dress Wiercioch as opposed to the slower Gryba. If it were a different opponent my opinion might be different, but a combo of Chris Phillips and Gryba could get victimized, especially in Montreal where the Habs can get their matchup.
8. Speaking of Phillips, it is time for a return of Playoff Phillips. Normally too mild-mannered in the regular season, Phillips more than anyone seems to be able to turn it up in the playoffs and becomes a lot more intense and angry. He is the Senators version of the Incredible Hulk
7. If the Senators can get to Carey Price early on in Game 1, it will set the tone and create a ton of questions in the Montreal media, which is very unforgiving. Price struggled of late and the city is already on edge with his play down the stretch, and an early soft goal might create chaos in Montreal.
6. If there was a matchup that benefits Ottawa’s Kyle Turris the most, it is the Canadiens. Their top two centres are not physically imposing, and will not have the ability to push the Sens #1 centre around like some of the other potential opponents would have.
5. Subban vs Erik Karlsson will be an interesting debate that has already begun. The comparison goes back all the way to the gold Medal game at the World Juniors in Ottawa in 2009. Subban was the fan favorite then as the rover on the power play for Team Canada while Karlsson was a scrawny kid on the Swedish blue line. Karlsson is still scrawny in stature but controls the pace of a game like no other, at even strength or on the power play. Not to diminish Subban’s ability, but take away power play time and Karlsson almost matched Subban’s even strength production in 25 fewer games. Defensively they are both effective but different. Subban can go for the big hit to change a game, while Karlsson is quick with his stick and can turn the Senators from the defensive to the offensive in the blink of an eye.
4. With games 1 and 2 back to back, here’s hoping there isn’t a lengthy overtime. Karlsson will be a minute hog in regulation, but how effective will he be in game 2 if he plays 60 minutes in a double OT game in game 1. Never mind, he would still be fine.
3. Craig Anderson will still be counted upon to shut the door and not let the Senators get behind. The Senators were 18-5-2 when they score first, but 7-12-4 when they do not. Anderson’s 2.02 GAA and .917 SP since his return are solid, but inferior to what he had put up before his injury and he needs to get back to that level, or at least close to it, if the Senators are going to beat the Canadiens.
2. While the Senators have some players who will be experiencing their first NHL playoff action, many of them were part of an AHL Championship in Binghamton two seasons ago, and Cory Conacher was a Calder Cup champion and playoff MVP last year.
1. Hopefully the Senators learned from last year’s sluggish road start (falling behind 4-0 in game 1) and can avoid a repeat. That start put them behind the 8 ball from the get-go and likely cost the Senators the series, although it went 7 games. The onus will be on Paul MacLean to get them ready for the opening faceoff.