One of the main advantages of playing hockey at home is that the coach gets the last line change. There is the home crowd, which is great for sure, and there is an advantage on face-offs, but being able to get the match-ups one wants is the greatest advantage. Paul MacLean particularly is very big on getting favourable match-ups, and he's had to be with so much talent missing over the year.
With that in mind, let's take a look at potential match-ups based on the four games this season. The Senators have changed a lot since the early meetings and haven't played the Canadiens at all since 13 March.
30 January 2013: Montreal 1 @ Ottawa 5
- Shots were 32-27 Montreal, but after two periods it was 4-1 Ottawa and 22-19 Ottawa in shots. Due to score effects, the Habs outshot the Senators 13-5 in the third.
- Jim O'Brien, Peter Regin, Mark Borowiecki and Andre Benoit played in that game and will not play in game one. Guillaume Latendresse, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Sergei Gonchar and one of Eric Gryba or Patrick Wiercioch will be the replacements.
- The Habs were without P.K. Subban in that game, and obviously are much better with him.
- The Senators had 18 defensive face-offs and 10 offensive zone face-offs. Erik Karlsson was on the ice for 9 defensive zone draws and only three in the offensive zone.
- Paul MacLean didn't have any obvious match-ups for his forwards in that game.
- On defence, Tomas Plekanec saw the pairing of Marc Methot and Karlsson 81% of the time. Alex Galchenyuk was matched with Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit and David Desharnais played against Chris Phillips and Mark Borowiecki.
- Shots were 33-32 for Ottawa. This was a close game and there was no scoring after the 11:29 mark of the first period. This was also the infamous Andre Benoit disallowed goal game.
- Kaspars Daugavins, Zack Smith and Jim O'Brien were used in defensive situations with Daugavins on the ice for 5 of Ottawa's 9 defensive zone face-offs. The Senators had 16 offensive zone draws and Karlsson was used for eight of those. As this was a road game, MacLean couldn't control who played against Karlsson on face-offs, but he did choose to put him in more offensive zone draws.
- Ottawa was +12 on Corsi and so was Erik Karlsson.
- Methot/Karlsson were on against the Plekanec line 48% of the time but Karlsson himself was on against Plekanec 70% of the time. This might have been MacLean managing to change on the fly and getting Karlsson on when Plekanec was on the ice. Michel Therrien put Galchenyuk on against Karlsson/Methot and Wiercioch/Benoit.
- This was a game dominated by Montreal that Ben Bishop outright stole. Shots were 45-24 for Montreal.
- However, the Senators were missing a lot of players that will play in game one. Players missing from this game but who will be in Game One of the playoffs include Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Guillaume Latendresse as well as Jared Cowen and Cory Conacher who haven't played in any of Ottawa's games against Montreal.
- Kyle Turris was matched up against Raphael Diaz and Josh Gorges. Without Karlsson, Plekanec faced Gonchar and Wiercioch 53% of the time, Galchenyuk was matched against Phillips and Benoit and Desharnais against Methot/Gryba.
- Phillips and Benoit were used mostly in defensive situations as was the Zack Smith line.
- Shots were 45-32 Montreal after outshooting Ottawa 13-3 in the third period. The Canadiens did receive three power plays in the period while Ottawa received none.
- The Senators were again missing all the players mentioned above except Latendresse.
- Therrien put Plekanec against Gonchar/Methot 60% of the time, Galchenyuk was against Eric Gryba about half the time.
- Gonchar/Methot were put out heavily in defensive situations, being on the ice for 14 out of 22 defensive zone draws and 4 out of 16 offensive zone draws.
- Gryba and Phillips were overrun, being -23 and -22 on Corsi and scoring chances were 8-1 Montreal with them on the ice. Ottawa was -20 as a team, meaning Gryba/Phillips were largely responsible for that. What makes it even more brutal was that they were on for nine offensive zone draws and six defensive zone ones.
- Obviously Karlsson's return will change match-ups significantly. He has only played one game at home since his return, so it is difficult to guess how he will be used after his return from injury. Against Washington and Philadelphia he played against Alex Ovechkin and Claude Giroux roughly 45% of the time. Against Boston, there weren't any particular match-ups that stood out.
- Karlsson was used mostly in offensive situations against Washington and Philadelphia, but that changed significantly against Boston. He was on for 11 of 16 defensive zone face-offs and 5 out of 18 offensive zone face-offs.
- So what does this all mean? The tl;dr version: Paul MacLean hasn't shown a great propensity to match forward lines against other forward lines significantly against Montreal, but he does appear to want certain defencemen out against specific forward lines.
- Based on games from earlier in the season, I would guess that MacLean will try to get Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson to shadow the Tomas Plekanec line and Sergei Gonchar/Jared Cowen against the Alex Galchenyuk line. Chris Phillips along with either Patrick Wiercioch or Eric Gryba will likely play against David Desharnais.
- For his part, Michel Therrien hasn't proven as intent on getting certain match-ups against Ottawa. In Montreal's last home game, Andrei Markov was against the Mike Ribeiro line, Gorges against the Nicklas Backstrom line and Subban against Matt Hendricks. Although none of these match-up was overwhelmingly against one defensive pairing.
- However, the Habs are now going with the following D pairings: Markov-Subban, Gorges-Diaz, Bouillon-Tinordi. They typically use Gorges-Diaz against the opposition's top line, so that is whom I expect Kyle Turris to face in games one and two. That would leave the Zibanejad line to try and score against Markov-Subban. With the amount of offence the Habs get from defence, that line will have to be defensively responsible. Coming out even in that match-up would have to be a positive result for Ottawa.
- Aside from that, there aren't a whole lot of match-up problems for Ottawa, especially if Patrick Wiercioch is the player that draws in. If it is indeed Phillips and Gryba on that pairing, the Habs have the skill and the speed to exploit that as they did in the last meeting between the clubs.