When you are too close to a situation, reality can be slippery. Over the past 18 months, the Ottawa Senators have traded away young, former first-round picks like Curtis Lazar and Mika Zibanejad and pursued the doddering Dion Phaneuf and the past-his-prime Derick Brassard. Ottawa’s solution to not having a No. 1 goaltender was to platoon two less-than-desirable options – and it worked! The Senators finished with 98 freaking points. The Senators are your relative who chain-smoked his way to 100. But while it can be fun when delusional ideas succeed in reality, it can also be ephemeral (at least in sports). This team isn’t close to a Cup, even though people close to the situation might think they are a real contender.
How does a Senators team that’s below average in possession fare against the best possession team in the playoffs? It’s an interesting question because all signs point to “not well.” The Boston Bruins still have the core of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and the campy Brad Marchand. Additionally, young David Pastrnak has been a gem, and his emergence as a highly productive goal scorer gives the Bruins’ second line equal punch to the first.
The Senators weren’t especially good at stopping teams from firing shot attempts in the regular season. Only the New York Islanders and Arizona Coyotes were worse at allowing shot attempts at even strength, in close game situations per 60 minutes. Even more alarming than that, Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf, the top minute-loggers on Ottawa’s defense after the redoubtable Erik Karlsson, were the worst offenders.
Expect the Bruins’ forecheck and cycle to be relentless against the Senators. They were third at even strength in offensive-zone faceoff percentage during the regular season, which suggests they had the puck in the attacking zone a lot.
All season, Boston understood the parameters of establishing (and maintaining) territorial advantage and igniting their wings in space off the cycle and rush. There is no reason to expect that to change. Bergeron will make it his duty to silence Kyle Turris and obstruct the passing lanes to Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman. Karlsson is great, but Boston’s defense is the real deal. They allowed the fewest shot attempts at even strength of any team this season. Tuukka Rask doesn’t need to be spectacular. His .915 save percentage, which is perfectly adequate, will do just fine.
While some hockey players are stoic, Marchand embraces, no flaunts, being sui generis. Watching him gash a defense with balletic charisma has been one of the highlights of this season. His individuality will surely bait the fans and Senators players, and amplify the drama of what should be a fun series. The Bruins are simply better, even though the Senators can continue to dream big.
Bruins in six