Now that the euphoria surrounding the first round victory over the Montreal Canadiens has settled a little bit, it is time to break down what went right, and what needs to be improved on as they advance to the next round.
1. Coaching – Paul MacLean played Michel Therrien like a fiddle. Ever since the post-game press conference after Game 1 and “Player #61″ became a thing, Therrien was never a factor in the series, except as a laughingstock. Everything MacLean did after that, whether by design, luck or a combination of the two, was golden and Therrien always seemed a step behind and reactive.
2. Goaltending – Anderson was spectacular and at least 2 of the wins could be directly attributed to his play and keeping the team in the game in times where Ottawa wasn’t in the game. On the other hand, the Senators got to Price and got him off his game. Price wasn’t as bad as he was made out to be, but like I said before the series started, getting to him early was the key as he came in struggling. The media and fans are not forgiving, and that played a role in this series.
3. Ottawa’s Young Guns Outplayed Montreal’s – Both clubs were led by their youth movement, which bodes well for the future of this now red-hot rivalry. While the play of Brendan Gallagher was effective at times, he ended up a series worst -7 and fellow rookie Alex Galchenyuk was -4. Meanwhile Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg and Jean-Gabriel Pageau were a combined +8 and Ottawa’s rookie forwards accounted for 8 goals and 6 assists.
4. Size On The Blueline – The Senators defensemen did a good job of containing the speedy forwards and denying them a lot of great scoring chances. Their mobility was a question mark heading into the series, but they were more than adequate and their aggression was rewarded. The Eric Gryba hit on Lars Eller set the tone, and whether you agree or not with the outcome and suspension, it was a statement by the Senators.
Balanced Scoring – Eighteen of the 21 skaters Ottawa used in the series recorded at least a point. With the balanced offense (5 players had at least a point per game) the Senators didn’t let the Habs key on any one line, and offense came from the most unexpected sources (Methot, Pageau).
1. Reliance On Goaltending – The Senators put too much reliance on the fact that Anderson was going to be there to bail them out. That might have been acceptable against a young, inexperienced and lets face it, less talented team like the Canadiens, but giving the same chances to the Penguins or Bruins would be suicidal. Anderson is good, even great at the moment, but that is a position you don’t want to put him in.
2. The Power Play – Yes, Ottawa scored 6 power play goals in the series and the team scored on nearly 1/4 of their man advantages. However, 2 of them were in the third period of game 3, and 3 came in the third period of game 5, when Montreal had essentially given up. When it mattered, the power play was not up to par and will need to be better if they want to get to round 3.
3. Karlsson Not Full Strength - While it could be a positive in that they won and he excelled despite not being 100%, Karlsson at times struggled to make pivots and just looked out of synch at certain times. Karlsson took more hits than normal and also made uncharacteristic turnovers that led to goals. Still, he is tied for the lead in scoring from the blueline but they will need Norris Trophy style play from Karlsson, and need him to be great, not just very good.
THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE
If they take anything away from the first round, it is that the Senators can compete with any team in the league. They playoff experience gained will go a long way to making the team competitive in the future, and some players came out of nowhere and showed maturity beyond their years – Jean-Gabriel Pageau, I am looking at you. With so many players getting their first taste of NHL postseason intensity, they cam through with flying colors.
Whether it will be enough to help them hit the Goliath Penguins (making a slight assumption there) in the right spot with a slingshot and pebble remains to be seen, but you can rest assured that if they do go down, it will not be without a fight.