The Morning After
The Ottawa Senators made the second round. Was it all rainbows and gumdrops?
While the Senators enjoy some well-deserved days off awaiting their next opponent, it's probably worthwhile to look back at the series that just ended and see if there's anything we can identify as trends. What went right? What went wrong? What are Ottawa's chances in the second round, anyway?
What went right: Luck
There's no sugar-coating this one, so let's face it: Ottawa got a lot of breaks in this series. From favorable goal reviews to posts hit to opposing players dropping like flies, things went the Senators' way. But you need luck to win a playoff series, and more importantly, the Senators had plenty of bad luck during the season. You can argue they got lucky in this series if you want to, but you can't argue that they didn't deserve it.
What went right: Coaching
It was probably mostly gamesmanship, with Paul MacLean and Michel Therrien trying to keep the focus off of their players in the midst of controversy, but one coach made a lot of noise about things beyond his control, and the other made a lot of jokes about things beyond his control. The teams reflected their coaches' attitudes for the most part--this was a series that was tied after two games, and the team that ultimately lost the series was the team that also completely imploded in game three when no outcome for the series was close to being decided.
What went right: Goaltending
Craig Anderson currently sits second among playoff goalies in save percentage at .950. The only player above him is Tomas Vokoun, who has one shutout in one game played. It should not be a big surprise that the goalie who ended the regular season with the best stats has continued that play. Meanwhile, the Canadiens got save percentages of .894 from Carey Price and .774 from Peter Budaj. Those numbers don't give any team a chance of winning a playoff series.
What went right: Youth Gone Wild
One benefit to Ottawa's injuries during the regular season was that young players were forced to step up. Coached well, they succeeded more nights than they didn't. Consequently, they approached pressure situations with more composure than you'd expect. Mika Zibanejad and Cory Conacher, especially, were given opportunities after mistakes in game four, and both responded with huge goals. Conacher had spent much of the third period on the bench. How he reacted to that tells us a lot about both his mental makeup and how the staff treats its players. Guys like Kyle Turris, Eric Gryba, Zibanejad, and Conacher have all faced some serious mental adversity this season, and they have all treated it as an opportunity rather than a setback. The Senators' inexperience should have been a liability in this series, and instead, it was forged into a strength.
What went right: Penalty Kill
A big focus of this series was the matchup between Ottawa's top-ranked PK unit and Montreal's top-five PP unit. The Senators' penalty kill dropped 4% (88% to 84.2%) but Montreal's power play dropped 5% (20.7% to 15.8%) which means Ottawa's unit wound up winning that battle. Montreal was never able to generate momentum from the power play, and did not score enough goals to give themselves a chance to win. The Habs were, however, able to generate chances with the man advantage--but chances have to be converted to be useful. Otherwise they're just a glorified "what if" statistic.
What went wrong: Power Play
Statistically, Ottawa ends this series with the power play running at 24%, and this is about as misleading as a statistic can be. They only scored power play goals in two of five games played, both 6-1 victories, and four of those goals came after the game was out of reach for their opponent. The numbers look nice, but Ottawa's play with the man advantage did them no favors in this series. The quality of their opponent is going to increase in the next round, and they probably won't have the luxury of playing sub-.900 goalies again. They must get more consistent scoring out of the power play to give themselves a chance to win.
What went wrong: Puck Possession
Statistically, Ottawa was outplayed in this series. It should be a major red flag that the team was outshot in all but one game against an opponent missing numerous starters, especially since the Senators led the NHL in shots per game during the regular season. Shots are Ottawa's game, and they were beaten at it by a banged-up Montreal squad. What happens if the Senators go up against an opponent like the Boston Bruins, who averaged .7 fewer shots per game than them during the regular season? Ottawa is 13th out of 16 teams in shots per game after this series with 30.8. Boston currently sits at the top with 41. If the Sens simply rely on their goalie to make up for the difference in shots, that's a bad plan--stopping 95% of shots is not a sustainable figure. If the team continues to be outshot by such a wide margin, they're going home.
What went wrong: Variable intensity
The Senators had a hard time matching their opponents' intensity in this series. In games two and four, the team had to know what to expect from a Montreal club that had reason to be fired up, whether it was due to Gryba's hit or the previous game's score. Yet in both games, the Sens' players were steamrolled. They were able to hang on long enough to dig themselves out in game four, but for the most part, despite the lopsided goal differential, Ottawa only won its games in the third period. None of these games were decided going into the final frame: The Senators trailed in three of the five games in the series, and in the other two were nursing one- and two-goal leads. A strong finish is nice to see, but a slow start in the next round could be insurmountable if they're not careful.
Ultimately, while enough clearly went right for the Senators to win their series, there's enough underlying problems to at least give fans pause. There is plenty of room for improvement despite the optics of a near-sweep by a lopsided goal total. The big positive, though, is that the team has earned some rest and recuperation by virtue of their quick win. This is key, as we know some players are hurt, and others just need the rest. Erik Karlsson, for example, does not have the same explosion as he did before lacerating his Achilles tendon--and that's not surprising considering it was supposed to end his season. The good news is that Karlsson is unlikely to aggravate his repaired tendon at this point in his recovery, meaning every day of rest he gets is also a day where he continues to heal and gain strength. The longer he gets to play, the closer he gets to a return to form, and rest only speeds that process. Jared Cowen is in a similar situation.
In addition, the time off gives the team freedom to focus on their numerous mistakes. Preparing for an opponent will be impossible while they don't know who their opponent is, but they do know where they need to improve regardless of opponent. They've earned the time to work on those things and focus on getting better while whomever they wind up playing still has to focus just on getting out of the first round. The good news is that we know the team has a staff in place to make this time off useful for the team both on and off the ice--and that is going to make the Sens a dangerous draw for anyone foolish enough to underestimate them as a team who simply beat an undermanned foe.