It’s only Friday but it feels like it’s been ages since Game One of this Bruins-Sens play-off series. Surely you’ve run through every excruciating close call in your head since Wednesday night. I know I’ve been replaying that Mark Stone snapshot from the slot with under twenty seconds to go in the third that Tuukka Rask found at the last second to preserve the Boston victory. Perhaps instead you’ve been agonizing over the normally reliable Clarke MacArthur’s failure to get the puck out of the defensive zone seconds before Frank Vatrano equalized. It’s that familiar mix of tension, joy, despair and eternal hope: play-off hockey, my friends.
As for the five thoughts themselves:
The funny thing about expectations is how quickly they can change. At the outset of the season, most reasonable Sens fans would have told you they’d have been pleased with a play-off appearance. By the midway point of the year, as it became clear the team would blow past these modest goals and reinforcements were brought in, it was something of a disappointment when Ottawa fell to the Habs in three successive games that essentially ended the quest for first in the Atlantic. Boston was admittedly a challenging first round opponent, but given that the Sens had home ice advantage and a healthier squad there were certain expectations for game one (and for the series as the whole). Part of why I find it hard to be upset after the first game is remembering what expectations were at the start of the season, and that’s before we get to where things stood just twelve months ago.
Erik Karlsson’s Health
If there’s one thing that might yet derail Sens’ fans visions of a deep play-off run, it’s the health of the captain. The club has outwardly maintained that Karlsson’s injury isn’t that serious, but their actions say otherwise. Unfortunately, game one was didn’t give much reason to believe the young Swede was at full capacity. Perhaps the clearest evidence of impediment were a couple of rushes in the second period that ended with Karlsson uncharacteristically pulling up or simply chipping the puck in the corner for his teammates to chase. He did play almost 25 minutes, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this was a) below his seasonal average and b) in extremely sheltered minutes. Karlsson wasn’t asked to defend the Bergeron line, and maybe Boucher’s plan would never have been to do so, but it’s a very real possibility that Karlsson can’t defend the Bergeron line in his current condition. And that’s the real sticky point for this series at least.
There has been much discussion about Boucher’s choice to hard match a five man unit of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Tom Pyatt, Mike Hoffman, Cody Ceci, and Dion Phaneuf against the Bergeron line in game one. Travis Yost wrote a piece on the subject at TSN, in which he was mildly critical of Boucher’s strict adherence to the plan. Our own B_T gave the tactic a more favourable review in his piece. I don’t think it’s necessary to re-hash that argument here, but I do wonder if Boucher might need to be a bit more flexible in his alignment for the next game. In Thursday’s media session, Boucher was emphatic that he planned to continuing utilizing Phaneuf and Ceci in this role — even if Marc Methot returned to the line-up.
Boucher’s made it clear over the course of the season that he has a specific vision of what his team needs to do to win games. To his credit, the team has over-achieved. It might also be unwise to change your gameplan at the first sign of trouble. Nonetheless, I think there will soon come a point at which Boucher will have to evaluate whether this specific tactic is generating the desired result. He’s proven he can implement a system and get rigid buy-in from the players. Will he be able to demonstrate some necessary flexibility in the implementation?
Atmosphere at CTC
It’s just a little thing, but the crowd at the CTC was fantastic on Wednesdy night. There’s been a lot of (justifiable) hand-wringing about attendance and overall fan support of the team this year, and a rocking full house was exactly what the doctor ordered. Sens fans are a funny bunch: I don’t think you’d get much argument that the atmosphere at regular season games can be a bit stuffy. Not so for play-off tilts, though. If you’d forgotten, that was a nice reminder.
Bobby Ryan’s Unexpected Resurgence
It’s not news to say that Bobby Ryan had a poor regular season. How much of it you chalk up to injury and personal issues is up to you, but it’s hard to imagine anyone in the Sens’ organization was overly pleased with the big winger’s production this year. His performance in Wednesday’s game, then, was nothing short of a revelation. I’m not ready to declare Bobby “back” just yet, but part of the reason so many analysts saw the Sens as first round fodder had to do with a lack of production outside of Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris. If Bobby Ryan is back to being the Bobby Ryan of even last year, that could have a major impact on the rest of this series. His partnership with MacArthur, in particular, appeared to be invigorating. Let’s hope the change is at least semi-permanent.