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MOP Squad on the Stanley Cup Final Part Two: The Senators
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
May 28, 2007 - 4:19:43 AM

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How The East Was Won: No team in these playoffs has looked quite as impressive as the Senators have so far. Ottawa was not the favourite in the East, but the way they dispatched Pittsburgh and New Jersey in the first two rounds gave people pause. Of course, they saved their best performance for the team that was the favourite in the East, the Buffalo Sabres, who they dominated so thoroughly they would’ve swept them if not for a tough giveaway to start game four, and even then they nearly came back to win that game. Ottawa’s lost just three games in the playoffs, all by just one goal. They have 17 more goals for than they do against, easily the largest margin of any team in the playoffs. They’ve got three shutouts, tied for the most of the playoffs with Dallas; Anaheim, by contrast, doesn’t have any. They’ve scored four goals or more five times. If there’s a concern for the Senators, it’s their over-reliance on one scoring line; Jason Spezza (7 goals), Dany Heatley (6) and Daniel Alfredsson (10), their top trio, has scored just short of half of all their goals, 23 of 48; fourth line centre Dean McAmmond has four to lead the rest of the pack, and with Alfredsson third on that line with 17 points, no one else in the Sens lineup has even half that amount. That said, the offensive contribution from the Sens defense has been very good, only two players in the team’s lineup have a negative plus/minus rating, and goaltender Ray Emery has been very solid.

Heroes: Speaking of Emery, in every round he’s been projected as this team’s weak link. He didn’t have the raw talent of Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, didn’t have the history of clutch performances of New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, and didn’t have the technical skill of Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. Still, he came out on top every time, and he’s the only Senator outside of the top line with a shot at being playoff MVP. Dany Heatley leads the playoffs in points with 21 and assists with 15. Jason Spezza is second with 20 points. Both have been superb; while they’ve always been talented players, they haven’t always been willing to do everything they could to win. They have in these playoffs. But the most impressive of the trio might be Alfredsson. He doesn’t have as many points, with 17, though he does lead the playoffs in goals with 10. But the Senators captain has led Ottawa in every conceivable way. He has four game-winning goals, most of the playoffs, and he’s hit, played hard defense, and gone flat-out all playoffs long. He’s been superb.

Goats: Ottawa’s second line of Mike Fisher, Peter Schaefer and Mike Comrie had 48, 46 and 45 points respectively, good for fourth, fifth and sixth on the team after Ottawa’s top three. But in the playoffs the three of them have only fifteen total points and their production has been disappointing. It’s a good thing the Sens have gotten such outstanding play from the first line, because the goal support from the second line just hasn’t been there. Guys like Chris Neill (1 goal, 3 points), Antoine Vermette (2, 4), and Chris Kelly (3, 5), guys who were also very good in the regular season, haven’t scored much either, but it’s that second line who’s lack of production has really hurt.

Specials: Ottawa’s power play has been outstanding. The Senators have scored on exactly 20% of their man advantage situations thus far. Not only that, the power play has scored one goal or more in fully two-thirds of the team’s games so far. Much of that production has been thanks to that top line; 9 of their 23 goals have been on the power play. But defensemen Tom Preissing, Wade Redden, and Joe Corvo have also used man-up situations to their advantage, scoring four power play goals and 12 power play points so far. On the penalty kill the Senators have been equally impressive. They allowed Buffalo’s power play, which featured so many weapons, just two goals in their five game series, and have killed 88.6% of power plays against them so far, a truly excellent rating. They’ve scored twice shorthanded after leading the league in shorthanded goals during the regular season, and have allowed no shorthanded goals against. Special teams have been a major reason for their success so far.

What Needs to Go Right: Something Ottawa’s been very good at that’s gone largely unnoticed so far is their proficiency in the faceoff circle. While Spezza’s been fairly mediocre on draws with a 48.2% success rate (which, to be fair, has been almost always against the other team’s best defensive centre, guys who are usually very good on faceoffs), Fisher and Vermette have both been superb. Fisher’s won 57.6%, while Vermette owns an astonishing 60.1%. By contrast, the best in the league during the season was Yanic Perreault, far and away the leader at 62.8%; second best Rod Brind’Amour was at 59.2%, so Vermette’s winning percentage is pretty amazing. The Ducks have got some good faceoff guys, but no one with near the success rate of either Vermette or Fisher; that’s an edge the Senators will have to take full advantage of.

What Could Go Wrong: Ottawa’s won the first game in every series they’ve played so far. While it wouldn’t be impossible for them to win this series if they lose game one, they at least need a good showing. Ottawa’s had an extra day or two off more than the Ducks have; they’ve finished all their series in the same number of games but they haven’t had to wait as long for the next round to start as they have had to wait for this one. You get the feeling from watching the Sens play that they’ve been building momentum game-by-game. They need that momentum to continue if they’re going to beat the Ducks, and the key to that will be shaking any rust off and getting used to the time zone change from Eastern to Pacific as quickly as possible, because if the Ducks defense smothers a groggy Sens offense in game one that momentum will be gone, and the Senators will be in big trouble.

Look for the first part of MOP’s Stanley Cup Finals Preview on the Ducks and the third part detailing how the team’s match up and MOP’s prediction of who’ll win. The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 26th at 8 PM EST.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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