Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Rd. 2 Preview: Devils vs. Ottawa

I apologize for the lack of updates, I've been busy with things for last few days and things look to stay busy until Tuesday night. In any case, I'll try my best to get something up with respect to a preview.

And there are plenty of previews: Tom Lycan has rounded up a ton of varying opinions from varying sources about this series at Devils Due here and here. I highly suggest you go there and check those previews and articles out. The front page of the official Devils website has a schedule of the series complete with television information for the for the series, and radio information for 5 of the 7 games. There are no back-to-back games here, which is probably for the best; something I'll get to in a moment.

As an aside, Jared Ramsden has a summary of each of the Devils' major junior prospects' seasons at Hockey's Future. While they only have four, three of them are worth keeping your eye on: Matthew Corrente, Kirill Tulupov, and Sean Zimmerman.

Anyway, back to the series. For the first round match-up against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I looked at both teams from an offense and defense point of view. However, I will not do that here. One thing about the playoffs is that you can basically throw out what happened in the regular season after a round or so. Weaknesses may become strengths and vice versa; and how each team did in the prior round is more deserving of consideration.

Ottawa Senators After Round 1
Team Stats (NHL Ranking in parentheses)
3.6 Goals For/Game (#2)
2.0 Goals Against/Game (#6)
1.83 5-on-5 For/Against Ratio (#3)
25% Power Play Effectiveness Rate (tied-#2)
85.7% Penalty Killing Success Rate (#9)
30.2 Shots For/Game (#7)
22.0 Shots Against/Game (#2)

Top 5 Scorers: Daniel Alfredsson (3 G, 3 A), Chris Kelly (3 G, 1 A), Jason Spezza (2 G, 2 A), Dany Heatley (2 G, 2 A), Anton Volchenkov (1 G, 3 A) (Note: Joe Corvo had 4 assists and is tied with Kelly, Spezza, Heatley, Volchenkov)

Top 5 Ice Time/Game: Anton Volchenkov (21:15), Daniel Alfredsson (21:12), Chris Phillips (21:12), Wade Redden (20:25), Dany Heatley (19:33)

Top Goalie: Ray Emery (4-1, 2.01 GAA, 90.9 Sv%, 1 SO)

This Ottawa Senators squad looked real good in a 4-1 series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Their defense was strong, Ray Emery was good, and the Senators displayed that their offense is much more than just Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson. Only three Senators failed to register a point in those 5 games (Phillips, Christopher Schubert, Oleg Saprykin); providing evidence that the Senators have a lot of depth to go with that scoring. Mike Comrie, in particular, looked threatening on offense despite the lack of points all series long. Their defense stepped up big with Redden, Phillips and Volchenkov (big with a lot of pain for opposing forwards in Volchenkov's case) and showed that they will not be intimidated by an offensive-heavy squad such as the Penguins. They definitely won't be intimidated by New Jersey's offense.

I think it's fair to say that the Senators are a more dangerous squad than the Lightning. They have an excellent first line like Tampa Bay. However, even if the Madden unit stops the Cash Line (I believe that is the nickname for Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson), the Senators still can attack effectively with Mike Comrie, Dean McAmmond, Antoine Vermette, Mike Fisher, and Chris Kelly among others. At least, more effectively than Tampa Bay's other three lines. What's more is that the Senators are a more physical team, especially on defense. Phillips, Volchenkov, Redden, and Corvo are part of a vastly superior top two defense pairing than Tampa Bay's top two. You can be sure the Ottawa defense will be more patient and not have moments where they seemingly forget to cover Devils wingers (Zach Parise, in particular). Ray Emery has made the saves when necessary and he'll give the Devils shooters more of a challenge than Johan Holmqvist, who was no slouch in the first round.

Most importantly, these are not the 2003 Ottawa Senators. When I saw them (thanks Versus), they did not look like prior Senators squads that would do really well in the regular season, look dangerous on paper, and then have something(s) go awry and crash out of the playoffs in the first or second round. The coaching staff and captain Daniel Alfredsson has seemingly done a good job in keeping this team focused on playing a balanced, complete game for 60 minutes.

New Jersey Devils After Round 1
Team Stats (NHL Ranking in parentheses)
3.17 Goals For/Game (#5)
2.33 Goals Against/Game (#8)
1.38 5-on-5 For/Against Ratio (#6)
25% Power Play Effectiveness Rate (tied-#2)
84.6% Penalty Killing Success Rate (#10)
28.2 Shots For/Game (#10)
28.0 Shots Against/Game (#6)

Top 5 Scorers: Scott Gomez (2 G, 7 A), Brian Rafalski (2 G, 5 A), Patrik Elias (1 G, 6 A), Zach Parise (6 G), Brian Gionta (5 G, 1 A)

Top 5 Ice Time/Game: Paul Martin (25:38), Richard Matvichuk (22:44), Colin White (22:29), Brian Rafalski (21:32), John Madden (21:08)

Top Goalie: Martin Brodeur (4-2, 2.26 GAA, 91.7 Sv%, 1 SO)

If you look at the team stats, nothing wows you except for two things. The first is the incredibly effective power play rate they managed against Tampa Bay, which clearly was crucial for the Devils to have a shot at winning the series, much less actually winning it. The second is the 3+ goals scored per game average. Gomez leads the NHL in assists and points in the playoffs after one round of play, Parise leads the NHL in goals in the playoffs, and Rafalski is only one point behind commanding defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom among points by defensemen. Offensive production and the power play has not been something to cheer much about from the Devils this season. You could say it was a weakness, but against Tampa Bay, the Devils showed that they can play run-and-gun hockey, they can score goals against back-up caliber goaltenders, and they can win with offense against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ottawa may have a much better defense than Tampa Bay and Emery, I think, is certainly much better than Holmqvist; but those who doubt the Devils' potential for goal production does so at their own peril. The Senators would be wise to keep that in mind.

Not that the Devils have ignored or given up what has earned them so much success in the past 13 years: defense and Martin Brodeur. Second part first, Brodeur has gotten better and better as the series went on against Tampa Bay and I can proudly say that he remains in his groove. A good number of the goals Tampa Bay did get past Brodeur were flukes and can be attributed to poor defensive moments, anyway; so it's not as if Brodeur could be considered to be garbage at any point.

Now, the defense also came up big as the series against Tampa Bay went on. Whether it was fatigue to Tampa Bay's top players or not, the defense became much more dominant against Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis - the two of whom just played with the Devils defenders in the first three games as if they were toys. They can handle big scoring lines (e.g. Ottawa's Cash Line) and it will take a Lecavalier-ian effort from a Senator to really break the Devils on defense and in net. That is not a dis at any of the Senators, but Lecavalier played out of his mind in that first round and the Devils still prevailed. In Colin White's absence (back problems), Richard Matvichuk has stepped up in a huge way and shutted doubters like myself right up. He's been a physical presence, he's been playing big minutes, he's played against the Lightning's best players and survived, and in four games he leads the NHL with 24 blocked shots. Willie Mitchell blocked 23, but it took him 7 games to do just that. Much respect should also be shown to Paul Martin, who has quietly shown that he can be effective for a majority of the game on defense as well; as well as Brian Rafalski, who has stayed cool and calm at the point as well as in his own end. The defense may allow Brodeur to see a lot of shots, but they have been adept at preventing shots from rebounds and other second-chance opportunities. The Senators will provide a big challenge, but I think they can be up to it.

In any case, to sum all this up, the two teams match well against each other in the sense that both teams can put up quite a few goals on offense, clamp down hard on defense to prevent goals, and both goaltenders can be difference-makers. This guarantees three things, in my view:
  1. A really great hockey series.
  2. A low-scoring hockey series.
  3. A really long hockey series.
As I mentioned earlier, there are no back-to-back games in this one and it is for the best. Both teams will come at each other hard and play hard in their own end to stop the other team from scoring first and taking advantage. Fatigue and the like will already be a big factor without back-to-back games. Fortunately, the schedule allows something resembling a break between games.

Both the Devils and Senators can win with defense and goaltending, we may see that for seven games. It'll be a hard-fought, close series. Naturally, I believe the Devils will win in seven games; by virtue of being a Devils fan and wanting my team to ultimately succeed. However, provided both teams play to their level in each game, I can't really begrudge Ottawa with the series victory should they win it. The winner of this second round series will truly have earned it in likely every way possible. GO DEVILS!


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