Apr 5, 2012; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean (right) really hates it when assistant coach Mark Reeds whistles. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-US PRESSWIRE
The Ottawa Senators surprised a lot of people by making the playoffs this season. The New York Rangers surprised a lot of people by winning the Eastern Conference this (regular) season. They both owe a lot of credit to their head coaches, and now they're facing off in the first round of the playoffs.
Behind the Rangers bench is John Tortorella, a head coach with ten years of experience in the NHL and a Stanley Cup Championship to his credit. He's also missed the playoffs thrice, and been knocked out in the first round four times; other than the Stanley Cup win, he's only made it past the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals once. He's a technical coach who demands a lot of his players, but they usually play hard for him.
Paul MacLean had nine years of NHL assistant-coaching experience before becoming the main man in Ottawa this season, and won one Stanley Cup while with the Detroit Red Wings as an assistant coach. Although MacLean has a system implemented, he's usually content with letting his offensively dynamic players--mostly Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson--take risks to make plays while they're on the ice, which worked well in the regular season but may not be as effective when there's less room on the ice during the playoffs.
As for special teams, it's a mixed bag: The Senators finished 11th in the league with a powerplay proficiency of 17.4 per cent, while the Rangers, who finished 23rd in the league with a powerplay click rate of 15.8 per cent. On the other hand, the Rangers' penalty-killing prowess--they were fifth in the league with a 84.8 per cent kill rate--makes Ottawa's look pretty bad--the Sens were 20th in the league with a 77.5 per cent kill rate.
Most of the staff here on Silver Seven have taken a look at the coaching and special teams matchup between these two teams, and we've come up with our breakdowns. Here they are:
When Paul MacLean was asked what had him kicked out of Thursday's friendly against the Bruins, his moustache bristled. He seemed to weigh his options for a moment, before conceding, "I can't afford it." On the same night, John Tortorella would have benefitted well from the same restraint. Instead, he lost himself twenty large. These two will make for an entertaining sideshow that hopefully includes Torts complaining about the twenty-five percent rule. Unfortunately for Ottawa, the powerplay has been terrifically stale--almost as bad as this Tim Hortons' muffin I'm picking at (bought it yesterday, left it out). I long for the days (not really) when we could poke at specials teams' whipping boy Greg Carvel when the man advantage looked over-rehearsed and unimaginative. Because it does right now. The Senators have to figure that out quickly--the Bruins did the unconscionable last year by succeeding in the playoffs with a peewee-style man advantage. Ottawa can't attempt to do the same, or the Rangers will start their playoff run looking like this guy. Still, I'm too subjective not to give the edge to Paul MacLean and co. Sure, the Rangers have performed better than expectations, but nothing like what MacLean has gotten out of the Senators.
Although Paul MacLean commands the respect of a much more experienced head coach, he's still a rookie in the position--and John Tortorella is far from it. Torts has been through these battles time and time again, and has a Stanley Cup ring to show for it, while MacLean's only been through them as an assistant. One advantage MacLean has, though, is the experience of going through it as a player. Sure, that was 30 years ago, but it's still a big deal.
As for special team's, Ottawa's got a huge advantage in the powerplay department--but that's been stone cold lately. They've got a huge disadvantage in the penalty-killing department, but the Rangers scored just two goals in 13 regular season opportunities against the Sens, so Ottawa matched up well there.
Advantage: New York, but only slightly in favour, and mostly due to Tortorella's head coaching experience.
Their coaching styles are as different as their facial hair; Paul MacLean's whisker length was last popular during World War One and John Tortorella prefers a three-day-growth beard that leaves you wondering whether he's spent the last three days berating Larry Brooks and hasn't had time to shave. Sens fans are quick to point out that much of Ottawa's prediction-defying season was the result of MacLean's presence behind the bench, but New York has also exceeded expectations this year and some credit must go to Tortorella. Both have playoff experience and Stanley Cup rings, but only one has it as a head coach. Paul MacLean is still a rookie behind the bench while John Tortorella is a seasoned vet.
Torts is an infamous taskmaster who's won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay and guided a Rangers team that finished 8th last season to the top seed in the Eastern Conference this year. Paul MacLean is a rookie head coach who's never coached a regular season game until this year, and has never coached a playoff game before--though he does have tons of experience from his years with Detroit. Both may be candidates for the Jack Adams Award for best head coach in the league, though MacLean has probably done more with less. Common sense says the advantage is with the Rangers due to experience, but it's worth noting that the last time the Senators faced a Tortorella-coached team, they dispatched them with relative ease.
Paul MacLean has done a wonderful job in his first year as coach, but it is still his first year. While the Senators have surprised many by making the playoffs, the Rangers themselves were not expected to finish first overall in the Eastern Conference. The two coaches have different styles, with Tortorella a lot more focused on getting the right defensive matchups. Paul MacLean knows his two best players are skilled, creative players and he has let them play. In the end, while both have been successful, it's hard to say the rookie coach has the advantage.
On special teams, the Rangers have a terrible power play but an excellent penalty kill. The Senators have struggled as of late on the power play, but are still far better than the Rangers. The penalty kill, like most things defensive, favours New York.
Overall, advantage Rangers.
When considering the two coaches in this series, you are looking at two potential finalists for the Jack Adams this season, and two crafty coaches who know how to get the most out of their players while providing juicy quotes for reporters. Torts has won a cup on the back of Brad Richards before, but Paul MacLean knows what the playoffs look like, being on the bench of those excellent Detroit teams and playing in them himself. Torts is known for accepting nothing short of excellence and MacLean is becoming known for letting his creative players do their thing. I call it a draw, as their styles are so so different, and both are superb coaches.
On special teams, the Rangers have a power play that is hot heading into the playoffs and Brad Richards is a power play master. Del Zotto gives them some good looks from the point, and Stepan has played the point recently as well, and done admirably. With Callahan in front of the net and Gaborik down low, the Sens would be wise to stay out of the box. The Sens power play has been wildly streaky all season long. Right now, it isn't so good, but in a week it could be unstoppable, they certainly have the talent. Penalty kill is usually about the goalie, and the Rangers have a good one. Callahan and Girardi block a tonne of shots as well. The Sens have been better of late on the PK, but I give special teams edge to Ranger.
There you have it: Five give the advantage to the Rangers, while one gives it to Ottawa. Bobby could make the rest of us look like fools!