As the we look forward to (or in some cases, dread) the upcoming playoff series between the Canadiens and the Senators, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team from the perspective of one of their fans. Ross A. of SBNation's Senators' community, Silver Seven, was kind enough to shed some light on his team's play as of late as well as his thoughts on Chris Neil.
1. Systematically, what do you think is the Senators' biggest strength, and how do you think this will be put to effect against the Habs?
Since Dave Cameron took over, the biggest change I've noticed is the team's forecheck. They are much more aggressive in the offensive and neutral zone than under Paul MacLean. This has favoured a team with a bunch of fast, young players. Mark Stone led the league takeaways, in no small part because of the system the team plays. Montreal is a fast team with mobile D, so they won't be in huge trouble. But watch for Ottawa's forecheckers to at least challenge Montreal's breakout every chance they get.
2. Systematically, what do you think is their biggest weakness, and how can the Senators minimize this against Montreal?
Ottawa's biggest weakness is too much dependence on Erik Karlsson, especially on the powerplay. He is a dynamic player, with the ability to change a game. The problem is that too often, the play is to get the puck to Karlsson and let him shine. This is easy to defend. Against Montreal, I'd like to see Ottawa make use of their forwards for zone entries a lot more. The powerplay's focus on Karlsson is an issue that probably won't be fixed this playoffs. One of the assistant coaches, Mark Reeds, is battling cancer (Editor's note: Sadly Mark Reeds passed away this morning), and the other is Jason Smith, a retired defensive defenseman. I just don't see anyone overhauling the powerplay in the two days before the series starts.
3. Who on the Montreal Canadiens, or what about their play, worries you the most in this series?
Who worries me the most is definitely Carey Price. When he's on his game, he's unbeatable. Goalies have the power to win or lose playoff series, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Price do the stealing.
Systematically, Montreal's speed worries me. The team is built to pick apart slow defenses, and both Gryba and Borowiecki aren't great at dealing with speed. I think Ottawa's bottom pairing could be feasted upon by Montreal.
4. And what about the Habs do you consider a weakness the Sens can exploit?
I would say lack of forward depth. In a "power vs. power" scenario, Lazar-Pageau-Condra get to take on De La Rose-Eller-Weise. Prust-Mitchell-Flynn (who's Flynn?) match up with Chiasson-Legwand-Smith. I'd pick Ottawa's lines in either of those head-to-heads. The bigger thing is that Cameron has shown the willingness to play Pageau against other teams' top lines. In that case, either Turris or Zibanejad is taking on the Eller line. Eller's no slouch, but those wingers look ripe for the picking.
5. A lot has been made about the Hamburglar storyline, and there's no denying he's been a factor, but this narrative seems to ignore the fact that the Senators have been a top possession team since the All-Star Break. What's been the biggest difference for them?
In a couple of words, personnel decisions. Some of that has been due to good luck for Cameron: Smith injury, Phillips injury, Neil injury, Borowiecki injury, Cowen suspension... But to Cameron's credit, he's made some good choices. He scratched Phillips before he was injured. After Cowen's suspension, he kept scratching him in favour of Wiercioch. He's given guys like Stone and Hoffman top-six minutes. He's played Condra and Pageau in significant roles. Playing the best lineup, and then giving the best of those players the most minutes has been the biggest factor in Ottawa's possession improvement.
It's interesting you mentioned the Hamburglar story-line, because it's true. Ottawa has been a much better team for a while, the results in the win column have just started to show up under Hammond. I know that's not how regression works, but it sure has felt like the results finally skewed to match up with the Sens' possession numbers. It's been great to see the team perform well when icing the lineup most bloggers have been promoting for a while.
6. How long of a leash do you expect Andrew Hammond to have if he falters?
This is my opinion only, but I expect not much. Everyone is holding their breath, waiting for him to crash back down to earth. Even if he's better than his AHL numbers suggest (and AHL numbers have very little bearing on NHL numbers for goalies), nobody is a .941/1.79 goalie in the NHL. Nobody. Based on his lack of experience, I expect Cameron will turn to the veteran Anderson if there's even one game of struggle.
7. What are your thoughts on Chris Neil as a hockey player?
Chris Neil as a hockey player should have retired four years ago. Once upon a time, he was an agitator and a motivator. He's now slow, lost, and usually a liability when he's on the ice. Rumour had it there was interest in him at the trade deadline, and I'm upset Ottawa didn't move him for whatever the offer was. He will probably be healthy in the playoffs, and I expect at some point he'll play. It bothers me to know that Neil will play at the expense of someone like Shane Prince when the games matter so much. Most Sens fans dread the sight of Chris Neil on the powerplay, or even worse, lumbering onto the ice as the extra attacker later in a game. I appreciate what he's done for the franchise and community, and wish him the best as I hope I never see him suit up for the Sens again.
8. The last time these teams met in the playoffs, there were a lot of sideshow storylines, on the ice, off the ice, and among fans and media. Do you expect this time around to be different?
I don't think it will be different, mostly because the media need to do something to get people to watch/listen/read. Sideshows get people's attention. How often do you think Prust will get asked about his "bug-eyed walrus" comments? Or Therrien will be asked about respect? It's in the media's best interest to drum up the hate factor before the series starts. I expect players and coaches to mostly ignore it, but I don't think that will stop the media (or the fans) at all.
9. Other than the Habs, what teams in the playoffs do the Senators match up well against, and why?
Calgary, because they aren't very good? If I were to pick a team in the East, it would probably be Detroit or Pittsburgh. I say this because their (healthy) defense aren't known for their puck-moving ability. That's the kind of team that Ottawa's speed and forecheck could wear down. Of course, a team with Crosby and Malkin or Zetterberg and Datsyuk is never a team to take lightly. I just think that Ottawa would fare better against them than New York or Tampa. I'm extremely happy Ottawa didn't draw the Bolts in the first round. They're my pick to be the Stanley Cup champs.
10. Time to lock in your prediction! Who will win the series? In how many games?
I don't think I'd be much of a Sens fan if I picked Montreal. I say Ottawa in six games. Either way though, I'm sure this will be a great series.
Big thanks to Ross for providing some perspective from the Senators' side of things. You can follow him on twitter @Sheer_Rossyness