Once again, I’ve gone a long, long time without posting, but now that game 82 has been played and it’s all over, I thought I should … hang on. The season isn’t over yet? The Sens are in the playoffs? The Senators? The Ottawa Senators? Well. That was unexpected.
In my season preview post way back in October, I said this:
It seems too much to hope that everything will work out, so I’m not expecting much from this team. That said, I don’t know that the Sens are as bad as many people would have us believe. Certainly, the team’s depth at forward is much improved over last year. I also think Clouston was doing something right, and I see no reason to think he’ll suddenly become an awful coach. A full season playing under his system should benefit the team. The bottom line for me is that the Sens are no more or less of an unknown quantity than either of their fellow eastern Canadian teams, yet it seems more prognosticators are forecasting positive things for Toronto and/or Montreal than for Ottawa. In Puck Daddy’s staff prediction post this morning, for example, no one had the Sens placing higher than the Habs and only two of five posters guessed they’d finish ahead of the Leafs. Personally, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Ottawa did better than both Montreal and Toronto. I also wouldn’t die of shock if this team happened to squeak into the playoffs.
So as you can see by the fact that I’m still alive, I was right about the whole not dying of shock thing. I was also right about Montreal and Toronto. (Suckas!) I was wrong when I suggested that if the Sens made the playoffs, it would be by squeaking in: they made it in fairly comfortably, with enough room to spare that they clinched their playoff spot a full 10 days before the end of the season. Winning the Northeast Division was also within the realm of possibility until the last couple of weeks. All of this happened thanks in large part to an incredible — in the true sense of the word: it was hard to believe — 11-game winning streak in January and early February that was without doubt the biggest highlight of the season. The celebration of Daniel Alfredsson’s 1,000th career game with the team will of course be another great moment Sens fans remember when they look back on 2009-2010. They might also remember the awful 1-7-1 post-Olympics stretch, but they’ll try not to think about it. And finally, they’ll remember that the team unexpectedly made it to the playoffs, and caused me to turn my post mortem into a –
Senators Playoff Preview Post! Yay!
Over the coming weeks, we’ll find out how Senators fans will remember the 2010 NHL playoffs. All we know so far — and it’s more than just about every other playoff-bound NHL fanbase knows — is the identity of our team’s first round opponent: the Sens will be taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again. Three times in the last four years the Sens have made it to the playoffs, and three times they’ve played the Penguins. Other cities might get excited when the postseason version of The Crosby Show comes to town. In Ottawa, it’s old hat.
(Although: I have tickets to playoff homegame #1 and I admit, I’m excited to be seeing Crosby and Malkin play in person for the first time. Since the Olympics, I’ve had to revise my stance on Crosby. He’s now a beloved and revered figure to me. I took a vow right after the golden goal that I would never speak ill of Sid the Kid again and I intend to stick to that.)
During last night’s Buffalo-Ottawa game on CBC, Dean Brown commented that this playoff familiarity means the Sens will know exactly what to expect from the Pens this time around, which would probably be true if not for the fact that the Penguins have played seven playoff series, including two Cup Finals, one of which — the one they won — went to seven games, since the last time they met Ottawa in the playoffs. No, Dean, I’m pretty sure these Pens are not the same ones from two years ago. They’re a lot more experienced, and their playoff beards are (metaphorically) a bit fuller. This massive amount of recent playoff experience gives the Penguins a clear mental advantage in the series, but might it hurt them physically? Is it possible they’re just plain tired from all that hockey? I hope so, but even if they are, it’s hard to say at what point fatigue might kick in.
Statistically, this series actually looks extremely even. At the moment — keeping in mind that the Penguins still have one last game to play – the two teams are exactly tied in goals against average (2.84) and penalty killing (84.3%). Pittsburgh’s power play (17.2%, 19th in the NHL) is slightly better than Ottawa’s (16.9%, 21st in the NHL). The season series was a 2-2-0 tie, with the Penguins outscoring the Sens by two goals overall. The Penguins have a better record post-Olympics than the Sens, but Ottawa has been better (7-2-1) in its last 10 games than Pittsburgh (4-4-2) has in its last 10. Ottawa went 2-2-1 in its last five games; Pittsburgh is 2-2-0 in its last four. Barring a massive Penguins win against the New York Islanders today, neither team appears to have much momentum on its side. The one number that does favour the Pens is, perhaps unsurprisingly, goalscoring: they have averaged 3 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL, while the Sens managed only 2.68 (16th). Goaltending stats … favour the Sens?
- Marc-André Fleury: .905 SV%, 2.65 GAA
- Brian Elliott: .909 SV%, 2.57 GAA
Ah, but Fleury’s career playoff stats are superior. That would be because Elliott, um, doesn’t have any. So that’s good.
All these things are good to know, but the bottom line for me is that the Sens this season are like the little girl with the curl on her forehead from that poem which, wow, turns out to be by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who knew?): when they’re good, they’re very good indeed, but when they’re bad, they pretty much totally suck. I mean, they are stab-out-your-eyes atrocious. The thing that makes the Bad Sens so nefarious is that you just never know when they’re going to show up, so it’s hard to say which team we’ll get for the playoffs. There have been good signs — Mike Fisher scoring a few goals, for example, could mean he’s about to start a streak; Jason Spezza, Peter Regin, and Erik Karlsson have all been productive lately and that could continue — but the team’s play has certainly not been consistently good since their last winning streak ended. Aside from all that, the true state of Anton Volchenkov’s health is also an important unanswered question, as he will be needed to help shut down Crosby and Malkin.
My prediction for the series: who knows? I’m inclined to think Pittsburgh will win just because they’re the Penguins and they won the Cup last year. If the Bad Sens show up, Pittsburgh will probably sweep. If we get the Good Sens, well, I think they could give the Pens a run. If we get the Good Sens, and the Pens are tired, and the Cup Finalist Curse makes a comeback after taking last season off, then sure, the Sens could win. Why not? It’s definitely possible. I just don’t think it’s likely. I started this season with very few expectations and I’m keeping that same attitude heading into the postseason.4 comments