Three Playoff Questions Facing the Senators

We tackle three questions that could be make-or-break for the Sens in the playoffs

1) We've heard that #TheSystem is built to really shine in the playoffs. How will it hold up? (by nkb)

Insofar as any particularly strategy is built to shine in the playoffs, Ottawa's is as good as any I suppose. Specifically though, there are a couple of things that the Sens do that might or might not work especially well against Boston:

a) Perhaps the most visible tactic of Guy Boucher's system is the aggressive pinching from the left-handed defense-men. I'm somewhat skeptical this will be as effective when playing the same team 4-7 times over the course of two weeks after they've had time to prepare for you. The hyper aggressiveness of some of the pinching, Mark Borowiecki comes to mind here, works primarily because it forces the opponent to make an unfamiliar choice at a very high speed. If the Bruins have done their scouting properly, their left wingers and their centres will be ready; the Sens might be well-advised to be more selective.

b) Another key feature of Boucher's system is the 1-2-2 (practically 1-4 at times) forecheck after an uncontested dump and chase. It won't be anything the Bruins haven't seen before, but the trap is extremely frustrating to deal with and in short stretches can be extremely effective at completely wiping out the opponent's transition attack. As long as the Sens don't fall into the trap (ha!) of playing too defensively, too early in a game in which they lead their well-rehearsed defensive structure could be a big benefit in this series

c) Lastly, Boucher's system is fuelled by short shifts and reasonably equal distribution of ice-time at 5v5. This is more of a deployment question than one of pure tactics, but in the play-offs most teams tend to give their top players significantly more ice-time; with the raised stakes and the days off between games, it's the sensible thing to do. Boucher should trust his top forwards with more ice time and more responsibility, and I think he will, because a system is only as good as its practitioners and Ottawa will need their best out there the most.

2) Both the power play and penalty kill have been terrible down the home stretch. Will the Sens be able to turn them around, or at least mitigate it as a weakness? (by Colin4000)

Doing a quick head-to-head match up between the Sens' and Bruins' special teams, the results aren't too promising...

Power Play

Ottawa: 17.0% (23rd)

Boston: 21.7% (7th)

Penalty Kill

Ottawa: 79.7% (22nd)

Boston: 85.7% (1st)

I think it's fair to say the special teams could be a lopsided match-up. Even with Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo out, who've been Boston's go-to guys on the power play and penalty kill respectively, Ottawa's special teams are faint in comparison.

The Senators' 'power kill' has somewhat improved down the stretch. It's been ranked 18th league-wide since March 1st, although the conversion rate has oddly been lower, at 16.4%. The infamous strategy of standing still has become slightly more uncommon, with the puck getting more movement than was previously seen. Facing Boston's penalty kill will be a tough task, especially when they have perennial Selke contender Patrice Bergeron helping them out.

The PK on the other hand has been a complete disaster. It's been the lowest in the league since the trade deadline, and doesn't look to be a fluke by the volume of shot attempts we've been giving up. Our PK SV% has also decreased as the season's gone on, although that could be at least partly due to worse defensive coverage.

The main question though is if the special teams can be improved, and I'm doubtful they will. Getting the full team back from injuries could help, although I'm convinced that this is more a problem with the system rather than with the players. The regular season would've been the time to fix this, not the playoffs when everybody's exhausted and already settled into the current system. With 82 games passed and little improvement to show for, I'm not counting on the playoffs being the time where everything suddenly clicks.

3) The injury bug has bitten the Senators late in the season. Erik Karlsson and Zack Smith were both held out, but are expected back for Game 1. Marc Methot is questionable. Bobby Ryan and Cody Ceci may not be back to 100%, it feels like Mark Stone is nursing something and we're all nervous about Clarke MacArthur. How can the Sens best handle players that are either out or playing hurt? (by Ross)

Injuries are big question for the Sens, especially on defence. Odds are decent they'll head into Game 1 with half their defencemen (Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Cody Ceci) possibly being injured. Boucher will probably compensate by rotating through defencemen, trying to minimize the time Karlsson and Methot have to spend on the ice together. I expect Karlsson will come out flying, with the only concern being him possibly causing another injury by trying to do something his body wasn't ready for, kind of like he may have done against the Red Wings last week. The Methot and Ceci injuries likely mean we'll be seeing more of Phaneuf and Wideman, which probably isn't the worst. We'll also likely see more of Phaneuf or Wideman on the powerplay, which is probably better than Ceci anyway. The real question is what will happen with the penalty kill, since Boucher has tried to avoid Boro or Wideman on the PK as much as possible this year. That's probably where the defensive injuries have me most worried.

The good news about Pierre Dorion emphasizing forward depth at the deadline is that the injuries the forwards scare me less. I'd rather have Zack Smith in the top six than Alexandre Burrows, but the drop-off isn't that huge. If Bobby Ryan can't play, Viktor Stalberg moves up the lineup and things are OK. Clarke MacArthur is probably currently better than Colin White, but that switch doesn't push the needle hard in the Bruins' direction. The big concerns are if Mark Stone or Kyle Turris aren't 100% healthy, because Ottawa has no one to replace these guys. Ottawa can overcome pretty much any depth injury, but anything more than a game without Stone or Turris (or Hoffman, though Hoff hasn't seemed injured lately) could be insurmountable.

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