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Canadiens vs Senators playoff series preview

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The Senators represent an epic challenge for the Montreal Canadiens, one they may not be able to withstand in round one.

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Two years ago, these two teams faced off in essentially the same positions, only that time the Montreal Canadiens were a dominant even strength team with a goaltender who hadn't put up great numbers after struggling with injuries all season. This time around, the Canadiens are a terrible even strength team, with a goaltender that's been breaking records and setting milestones en route to a Vezina and Hart Trophy winning regular season.

The Ottawa Senators, are mostly the same. A young team that surpassed expectations, relying a bit on insane goaltending down the stretch, but with solid underlying numbers. The goaltender is different this time around, but most of the skaters are the same. What Ottawa lost in the departure of big names like Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, they've made up for in depth scoring, where they are close to the league's elite.

While the Canadiens dominated the previous series and lost in five games, this matchup is clearly quite different, so we'll look to the season series.

Looking at a variety of metrics in various situations from War On Ice, the results aren't pretty for the Habs. In the following graphs, the Canadiens are in blue, and the Senators are in red.

all situations

all situations (score-adjusted)

5-vs-5

5-vs-5 (score-adjusted)

There's really no situation or metric here that gives a decided advantage to the Canadiens, and as we use more and more precise measures, the most indicative of future success being five-on-five play that's score-adjusted, the Canadiens continually look worse.

The most troubling of all to my eye is that scoring chance differential. Carey Price is the super-elite of elite goaltenders right now, but can he make up the difference in a series where the opponent is averaging almost 31 scoring chances per game, and his team is averaging under 25 (again, per War On Ice)? How many scoring chances to the Canadiens miss out on with Max Pacioretty injured?

Room for optimism

Last season the Canadiens matched up even worse against the Tampa Bay Lightning, with possession rates closer to 43% than 48%. Yet, in that series, the Canadiens absolutely thumped the Lightning in every way. Tampa Bay was a young, inexperienced team at the time, something that can't be as easily applied to the Senators, but there is only so much information that can be gleaned from a season series.

And there's more than just looking to last year and hoping, there is legitimate evidence that hints to the Canadiens possibly peaking at the right time. If you look at score-adjusted shot attempt differentials, and plot out each team's five game rolling average, you get a surprising result.

habs vs sens moving avg

Habs = blue/red line || Sens = black/red line

Weirdly, the two deep slumps the Canadiens had this year in possession coincided almost perfectly with Ottawa's peaks. More interestingly though, the Canadiens finished the season strong, climbing back into positive possession territory, while the Senators slipped greatly and were a sub-par possession team for around the final 12 games of the regular season.

The X-Factor

One thing that simply can't be ignored in this series, is the gap between Carey Price, and Andrew Hammond. Magical run that it was, Hammond is nowhere close to a high quality NHL goaltender. He gives up fat rebounds, and scrambles around like a madman after the first shot. If the Canadiens play well, they really should have no problem beating him regularly.

However, what remains to be seen is how long his leash is. After an astonishing 20-1-2 record in the regular season, it can be difficult for coaches to step back and see the forest for the trees, and it's more likely than not that Dave Cameron believes Hammond is one of the biggest reasons the Senators made the playoffs, instead of being in the right place at the right time.

If Cameron is hesitant to remove Hammond and start Anderson, the Canadiens have a significantly better chance of winning the series.