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Sens Week Ahead : Mar 13 to 19

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The final stretch starts at home

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Lightning @ Senators

Tuesday, March 14th 7:30 PM
TSN5

Prev game : @Rangers, Monday, March 13th
Next game : Maple Leafs, Thursday, March 16th

Hot : Nikita Kucherov - 18P (10G, 8A) in last 9 GP
Cold : J.T. Brown - 0P in last 11 GP
Injured : Steven Stamkos (IR), Ryan Callahan (IR), Vladislav Namestnikov (DTD), Tyler Johnson (DTD), Cedric Paquette (DTD)

Tampa is still in the playoff talk, but their margin for error is wearing very thin. Three points out and two teams to leapfrog is a big hill to climb at this time of year.

On the plus side, Nikita Kucherov is absolutely on fire. He’s in a three-way tie for the most points in the past month along with Jack Eichel and our own Erik Karlsson with 18 points, though with two and three fewer games played respectively. Coming along with him is Victor Hedman with 14 points (only behind Karlsson in the past month for D) and Tyler Johnson at 11 points.

On the flip side, their fourth line is pointless in that stretch, and the third line not that much better. As hot as their top players are right now, their depth scoring is ice cold. Shut down Kucherov, and the rest of the team struggles to put up points.

Blackhawks @ Senators

Thursday, March 16th 7:30 PM
TSN5

Prev game : @Canadiens, Tuesday, March 14th
Next game : @Maple Leafs, Saturday, March 18th

Hot : Patrick Kane - 13P (10G, 3A) in last 8 GP
Cold : Ryan Hartman - 0P in last 7 GP
Injured : Scott Darling (DTD)

This may be a bit of a broken record, but the Blackhawks are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Winners of eight of their last 10, they’ve closed the gap for first in the Central to a single point.

During that stretch, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Artemi Panarin are all putting up at least a point per game. Corey Crawford has been very good, and Scott Darling was having a great stretch before going down (and he’s expected to be available again for their next game).

A point of weakness for them all season has been special teams. The power play sits at 17th for success rate on the season, and the penalty kill at 27th. In their recent stretch, the PP has been a bit worse and the PK a bit better, but I’m not sure how much it matters overall - both recently and on the entire season, they’re one of the least penalized and least rewarded teams in the league.

Canadiens @ Senators

Saturday, March 18th 7:00 PM
Sportsnet

Prev game : Blackhawks, Tuesday, March 14th
Next game : Senators, Sunday, March 19th

Hot : Paul Byron - 4P (3G, 1A) in last 3 GP
Cold : Michael McCarron - 0P in last 9 GP
Injured : Tomas Plekanec (DTD), Brian Flynn (DTD), Brandon Davidson (DTD)

It’s not quite all the marbles on the line, but the weekend’s home-and-home against the Canadiens is likely to have a huge impact on the the Atlantic race. It could solidify the position, it could put the chances on life support.

Like the Sens, the Habs are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games (and 8-3-0 under Julien) and have been coming on hard. Carey Price looks like Carey Price again and has posted only one average SV% (a .913) and no bad games since the coaching change, with an average of .952.

The biggest improvement seems to have been on the penalty kill. Teams have had far fewer high danger chances since the change, and their PK has allowed goals at about half the rate than before. This also largely explains the “turn-around” in Price’s game - his even strength numbers haven’t changed much, but the PK SV% has skyrocketed.

The flip is offensive numbers are down across the board. Shot rates are down, and so is shooting percentage. The former may be systematic or temporary while they adjust to Julien’s system, but the latter is unlikely to last.

Senators @ Canadiens

Sunday, March 19th 7:30 PM
Sportsnet

Prev game : @Senators, Saturday, March 18th
Next game : Red Wings, Tuesday, March 21st

Hot : Paul Byron - 4P (3G, 1A) in last 3 GP
Cold : Michael McCarron - 0P in last 9 GP
Injured : Tomas Plekanec (DTD), Brian Flynn (DTD), Brandon Davidson (DTD)

In general, Montreal has been a bit better at home than on the road, but that’s generally true of most leagues. I can’t put much stock in the home vs away special teams given the coaching change and very limited games at home since that happened.

The biggest difference the back to back may make is in the net. While Price has been stellar, Al Montoya has not in his limited time. He was in the net for their streak-busting blowout loss to Calgary, and was very much up and down before Julien as well. While teams are usually better off splitting a back to back between their goalies, this is a case where they might be better off riding the starter - especially if the standings are still tight come Sunday.