This is not the matchup the Habs were hoping for.
In the all-Canadian series between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators, fans can expect to be treated to a goaltending duel between two teams that have relied heavily on their starting netminders. In one corner, this series features the NHL’s best goalie, Carey Price. In the other corner, the league’s hottest goaltender and hamburger thief, Andrew Hammond.
And, as Senators captain Erik Karlsson put it, the Senators are coming in hot:
— Erik Karlsson (@ErikKarlsson65) April 11, 2015
Though the goaltending narrative is likely to dominate the series, expect a couple of other storylines to emerge as these Atlantic Division rivals face off beginning this Wednesday.
For one, Canadiens fans must pray that Max Pacioretty returns and is in full form against the pesky Sens. Pacioretty carries the Habs’ offense and will be needed while facing the unflappable Hammond. Second, youngster Mark Stone surged to end the season, finishing atop the rookie point scoring race and announcing himself as a genuine Calder Trophy candidate. His ability to make an impact on the series could make the difference for the streaking Sens.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these three storylines.
Carey Price vs. Andrew Hammond
— Habs_Space (@Espace_CH) April 12, 2015
Sure, you might hear that this series is more than just Price vs. Hammond. But don’t listen. This series hinges on the battle of the creases.
Prior to Hammond’s wild run, the Senators weren’t even dreaming of the postseason.
But after Sens starter Craig Anderson and backup Robin Lehner succumbed to injuries, the Hamburglar emerged from Binghamton and kicked off a mind-
robbling boggling 20-1-2 run with a 9.41 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average. Though the play of captain Erik Karlsson and youngsters like Mark Stone has mattered, Hammond’s play is the single biggest reason the Senators clinched a playoff berth.
Hammond’s advanced stats check out too. He stops high-danger shots better than anyone in the NHL and has been reliable in the tense moments of a game for months. Montreal ranked 20th in the NHL in goals per game in 2014-15. A strong showing from Hammond might smother their anemic offense entirely, especially with Max Pacioretty, the Habs’ leading scorer, attempting to return from injury.
In his 22 starts Hammond has only allowed 5 third period goals. Gamer.
— Wayne Scanlan (@HockeyScanner) April 11, 2015
In the opposing crease, the Senators are tasked with winning four games against the NHL’s best goalie.
Price is a front-runner for the Vezina Trophy, a likely choice for the Hart Trophy and the league leader in wins, goals against average, and save percentage. Though the Sens finished ninth in the NHL with 2.83 goals per game, they’ll be hard-pressed to muster a ton of offense against Price.
Will the Hamburglar finally falter? Can Ottawa’s offense finally put a crack in Price’s armour? Or are fans set to watch a series filled with 2-1 scores? Both Montreal and Ottawa boast tremendous goaltending and this series is bound to hinge on the play of Hammond and Price.
Will Max Pacioretty Play?
— SportsCentre (@SportsCentre) April 8, 2015
Pacioretty, Montreal’s leading scorer, paced the Habs with 37 goals and 67 points in the regular season. And though the Habs boast a trio of 20 goal scorers (Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk), the Canadiens’ offense goes as Patches goes. A look at this visualization by Mathew Brown shows just how pivotal Pacioretty is to the Canadiens’ offensive plans.
His loss would leave a gaping hole in the Canadiens’ attack without any plausible replacement.
The good news? Pacioretty is lauded for his quick recovery skills and has already returned to practice:
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) April 13, 2015
The bad news? Pacioretty is sporting a slightly-tinted visor, leading to speculation that the forward is battling the effects of a concussion.
The long-term ramifications of playing through a head injury do not bode well for Pacioretty’s future. The short-term concern is that the Canadiens simply cannot afford to play without their most dangerous offensive weapon. Fans can only hope that Pacioretty doesn’t risk a career-threatening concussion recurrence and put the rest of his career in jeopardy.
The Takeaway King
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 13, 2015
The final storyline to track in this series is the impact of quickly-developing takeaway artist Mark Stone. With 35 points in his final 31 games, Stone overtook the scoring lead among rookies, making a strong case for the Calder Trophy along the way. He also solidified his role as a key offensive cog for the Sens.
But Stone’s streak wasn’t solely offensive. The young forward maintained a 51.9% SAT rate, 2.7 percent better than the Senators’ team average. Stone finished first in the NHL in takeaways with 98 and second in the league in turnover plus/minus.
While Stone has enjoyed plenty of success in the regular season, the rookie has never been tested in the heat of the NHL playoffs. Stone’s ability to continue his offensive output, while maintaining his defensive contributions, is key for the Senators as they try to overcome the Canadiens in the first round.
Canadian hockey fans may be disappointed that one Canadian club will exit the playoffs after this series. However, the Sens-Canadiens matchup pits two of Canada’s most exciting clubs against each other in a highly-anticipated series. The play of Hammond, Price, Pacioretty, and Stone will likely dictate the outcome.
As for a prediction, there’s surprisingly little to choose between these two teams. Both come into the playoffs on three-game winning streaks. Ottawa won the season series 3-1, which bodes well for the Sens’ chances. Ottawa also ousted the Canadiens from the 2013 playoffs. However, historical stats barely play here as the Senators are a completely re-worked lineup since 2013.
In the end, Montreal doesn’t seem to have the firepower needed to beat Hammond enough to stem the Hamburglar’s amazing rise. The Senators have enough offense, hot goaltending, and an edge in the season series. Look for the Senators to win this first round matchup in a tightly-contested seven-game series. And don’t expect many goals.
Prediction: Ottawa Senators win series 4-3