(1) New York Rangers 51-24-7 vs. (8) Ottawa Senators 41-31-10
Game 1: April 12, 7pm- Ottawa @ New York
Game 2: April 14, 7pm- Ottawa @ New York
Game 3: April 16, 7:30pm New York @ Ottawa
Game 4: April 18 7:30pm New York @ Ottawa
Game 5: April 21 7pm Ottawa @ New York*
Game 6: April 23 TBD*
Game 7: April 26 TBD*
This being the NHL an eight beating a one is not a huge shock. Few would be surprised to see LA knock off Vancouver in their WCQF, but it seems the prevailing opinion among many is that Ottawa doesn't stand a chance in this series. I'd admit there's more daylight between 1 and 8 in the East, nevertheless the Senators have some clear advantages going into this series they should be able to exploit.
The vast majority of the game is played at even-strength so it's no surprise that metrics that deal in it correlate most closely to winning. While the Rangers have a slightly better 5on5 goal ratio than Ottawa (1.14 vs. 1.05); when you drill down into the possession numbers it reveals the Rangers to be a negative possession team. Much of the Rangers success at even-strength can be attributed to their propensity to block shots up and down the lineup (3rd most in the league) as well as King Henrik - not because they actually have the puck on their sticks. Ottawa is a much improved possession team at even-strength this year. One way possession is measured is FenClose, this is basically a shot and missed shot differential that tells you which team or player had the puck more. Ottawa was 20th in FenClose last season, this year they're 10th - interestingly Elliotte Friedman in his 30 Thoughts yesterday had an anecdote that Paul Maclean emphasized possession to his d-men instead of chipping it off the glass, it seems to be working. The guys at BroadStreetHockey recently looked to see which teams had the best possession numbers since the trade deadline, the Senators are 6th best the Rangers 16th.
On Tuesday Neal Greenberg asked the question "Does head-to-head regualar season success matter in the playoffs?". The results say it does, 77% of first round series since the lockout were won by the team with the better head-to-head record in the regular season. Comforting numbers for an Ottawa team that went 3-1 against New York this year. Both at SBP (0.582) and at MSG (0.516) Ottawa possessed the puck for the majority each game at even-strength. Erik Karlsson drove play to the tune of being +37 in CORSI, the best Ranger by comparison was Carl Haglein at +7. Although I'm not sure I'd bank on Lundqvist's save percentage being .908 as it was in those games.
If the Senators play to their capabilties they should have the puck more than New York. A Senators win this series won't be because of some Halak like heroics from Anderson getting shelled night after night. Instead Ottawa will need to control the play eluding as many New York shot-blockers as possible.
Part of the impetus for bringing Brad Richards on board was in the hopes of fixing an ailing power-play. A volley that hasn't worked thus far - the Rangers are the 2nd worst shot generating team on the pp, just edging out the anemic Coyotes. The Senators PK similarly isn't exactly a pillar of strength running at 81.6 after 82 games.
The Senators had a top 10 power-play for for much of the season ultimately finishing 11th ranked at 18.2% generating 47.6 shots per 60 mins of pp time. The Rangers as you might expect have an excellent penalty kill - 5th ranked with a 86.8 kill rate.
Of course perhaps the biggest factor in all of this is discipline. The Rangers have it and the Senators don't, at least that's what the regular season tells us. The Senators spent the 28th most time shorthanded in 11-12, the Rangers spent a 78 mins less on the pk. The result being a +8 special teams goal differential for New York, -8 for Ottawa.
- Expect to see a healthy dose of Dubinsky - Boyle - Fedotenko on Greening - Spezza - Michalek. No Rangers centre started in the defensive zone more; this is a player Tortorella trusts against top players and a matchup we'll see a lot of when he has last change.
- Kuba - Karlsson on Hagelin - Richards - Gaborik. The Senators defence as this blog has written about extensively leaves much to desired (30th ranked by Hockey Prospectus). That being said Kuba and Karlsson have had good results all year against top players even if they're not the first pair that comes to mind when you think "shutdown pair".
- Callahan on Karlsson. This is something MacLean is going to want to avoid. The last time these two teams met in the regular season Callahan got a few good licks on Karlsson on plays bordering on charging. Karlsson will need to be extra slippery...also something something head on a swivel.
- Anderson and Lundqvist. Henrik is the better goalie obviously, you just have to hope for Ottawa's sake that he's seeing a lot more rubber or that Anderson can find the way to play like this again.
Who's The New Peter Regin?
In a series that probably went longer than it should have, many would argue Peter Regin was Ottawa's best player. Unfortunately all that potential flashed has been unrealized as the Dane's shoudler appears to be made of the same substance as Pascal Leclaire.
Nichols pick for this title is Zack Smith, he of the shit disturbing with decent hands ilk. And while it wouldn't be totally unsurprising I expect Michalek to make a lot of noise in this series at both ends of the rink. Honourable mention to Kyle Turris.
For the Rangers Nichols and I agree that Carl Hagelin is a sneaky-good threat to be wary of. Since being called up he's driven possession on every line he's played on all the while scoring a tidy 38pts in 64 games. Honourable mention to Chris Kreider...if he plays.
@steffeG - Rangers in 5
As much as I would love my prediction to be as bad as the one from the pre-season that had the Sens being out of the playoffs, I don't think there's enough in this team to surprise once again. With the big difference being the netminding, the guys in red would have to outplay the Rangers badly to even have a chance in this one. While I don't think that's impossible, especially with the often-praised defense of the Rangers putting a second pairing of Anton Strålman (Anton Strålman!) and a struggling Marc Staal out there. With equal goaltending, I might have chosen the Senators here, but with things being what they are, I can't see this being more than a five- or six-game series. Either that or this is an evil reverse jinx, like the very succesful one from pre-season.
@Wham_City aka me - Sens in 6
I have no problem admitting I picked the Senators for a 15th place finish this year. But I really think this is a good matchup for Ottawa, especially in light of what the alternatives were. To be honest I like this Rangers team very much, and if Staal was playing like "Marc Staal" it'd be a lot harder to pick the Sens. Ottawa is plainly a superior possession team than the Rangers and they'll need to play like it. Goaltending will be a great equalizer, so I guess I'm calling Lundqvist to falter some. The Rangers had the 4th best record in one-goal-games this year, a stat that has historically not portended playoff success - the Senators were the 3rd best one-goal-game team in '10.
@GraemeNichols - Sens in 6
When Rob Vollman came on the latest episode of The 6th Sens podcast, he reiterated that the New York Rangers weren’t a great puck possession team and that they were susceptible for an upset. That’s not to say that these Rangers aren’t a good team, they are. Regardless, Ottawa’s like an underage kid who got into the bar with a fake ID. In a rebuilding year, they weren’t supposed to make the playoffs and now that they’re in, everything’s gravy because there are no inherent pressures on Ottawa to win. Case in point, Rangers owner James Dolan has already made his Stanley Cup predictions and Henrik Lundqvist is featured on the cover of the most recent edition of Sports Illustrated. I don’t even think Craig Anderson can find himself on the cover of one of those Staying Safe magazines. Judging by the Twitter ban, the Rangers are already feeling secluded. It’s only going to get worse if they drop a game or two at Madison Square Garden – an arena where Craig Anderson hasn’t lost before– and the restless New York media or John Tortorella start exerting some pressure on the players. Combined with the possibility that Ottawa could give their lineup some jump with the inclusion of a Mika Zibanejad or a Jakob Silfverberg into the lineup, it’s going to be a fun series to watch for Senators fans.