Friday, April 21, 2006

Sizing it up

FORWARDS:
One thing is known for sure: both of these teams can score goals. Ottawa finished 2nd
in the league in scoring, and though Tampa was further down the list at 16th, they have enough weapons up front that they can hang with the Sens. Beyond the big three of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Brad Richards, the Lightning have some real solid secondary tools in Fredrick Modin (31 goals), Vaclav Prospal (80 points), and Ruslan Fedotenko (26 goals). Getting Martin Havlat back will boost the Sens odds of being able to run and gun with the Lightning, as he was a 30 goal scorer in the old NHL, and as we’ve seen when he’s been in the line-up this year, the new rules suit his skillset quite well. What might give Ottawa a slight edge is the fact their scoring is better distributed. If we’re to believe the forward lines Bryan Murray went with Tuesday night and all week in practice are what we’ll see tonight, the Sens’ third line with have Havlat and two 20 goal scorers (Mike Fisher and Peter Schaefer, each coming off career years) while their fourth would have Antoine Vermette and his 21 goals with Chris Neil and his 16. I’m not sure Tampa’s third and fourth lines can produce that much offence unless players like Dimitry Afanasenkov step up.
EDGE: Even

DEFENCE:
This is where Ottawa separates itself from Tampa, and where I believe the series will be won. While one might be able to make the case they’re even up front, there is no comparison on the back-end. Ottawa’s top four of Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips, Wade Redden, and Andrej Meszaros towers over Tampa’s Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina, Daryl Sydor, and Corey Sarich in every area. In total, Ottawa’s top six D combined for 46 goals and 203 points compared to Tampa’s 26 goals and 130 points. Ottawa native Dan Boyle will have to have a monster series on Tampa’s blueline for the Bolts to have a shot, and Pavel Kubina, who was so sensational last season, is going to have to rediscover that game, because he’s struggled all season long. The offseason departures of Brad Lukowich and Jason Cullimore, though not considered significant at the time, look to have depleted what was a strong group of defencemen. Can the guys they have left shut down Ottawa’s top skaters the way I believe the Sens can to Tampa’s? I don’t think so.
EDGE: Ottawa

GOALTENDING
Though John Grahame has been given the nod by Tampa, don’t think that’s set in stone. If he struggles, I’m sure John Tortorella will not hesitate to put Sean Burke in there. However, regardless of which Bolts ‘tender is between the pipes, I think Ray Emery has the edge. As streaky as he’s been this season, he’s still head and shoulders above the abysmal goaltending that Lightning fans have had to deal with this season. He has been prone to bad goals when struggling, but again, that’s something that the Bolts have dealt with all year long, regardless of which guy was in nets. Don’t expect this series to be one where goaltending shines though. High scores will be at a premium, and it may come down to which of the two netminders lets in the least amount of poor goals. For the Sens, Emery simply winning a series, even in unspectacular fashion, will be a boost to his confidence.
EDGE: Ottawa

SPECIAL TEAMS:
A lot of pundits have made a point of stressing Ottawa’s advantage on the powerplay end compared to Tampa. Ottawa finished the season with the 4th ranked PP while the Lightning are all the way down at 23rd. There can be no disputing that the Sens have the better PP, but believe me, Ottawa’s powerplay is much better on paper than it is in execution. It has struggled horribly this season, and gone through dry spells that made me convinced they would never score another goal with the man advantage. Usually, they snap out of it, however, don’t let that 4th ranking fool you. And I have to believe Tampa’s PP is better than that 23rd ranking, just because they have so many talented offensive players. The penalty killing may be the real advantage and where the numbers are more indicative of the gap between the two teams. The Sens are also ranked 4th there, but it’s been far more consistent this season. Ottawa led the NHL in short handed goals, with three players in the top 10 short handed scorers. Throw in Havlat, who proved to be a formidable shorthanded threat in his limited action, and Ottawa’s special teams game is much stronger than Tampa’s.
EDGE: Ottawa

TOUGHNESS:
Neither team are considered to be among the NHL’s toughest teams. Tampa doesn’t have a lot of bruisers nor do they have many guys that can hang with Donald Brashear, but they showed immense team toughness during their Cup run, with even the skilled players displaying a lot of grit. Ottawa’s toughness, or lack there of, has been listed as a weakness for as long as I can remember, and though I never believed it was why they lost, the Sens toughness was not at the level fans would’ve liked. I think all those playoff defeats, as well as the 2003 Eastern Conference final appearance toughened a lot of the guys, but there are still enough question marks. The guys who depend on the game getting rough will be sitting this series out. Fortunately, I don’t imagine this series will be that kind of hockey.
EDGE: Tampa Bay

PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE:
Because of their Cup run in ’04, Tampa has a massive edge over the Senators here. Tampa has 13 guys with rings, while Ottawa, without Dominik Hasek, has zero. In fact, they only have one guy (Vaclav Varada) who's been to the finals. In short, Tampa has a team full of guys who know how to win, while Ottawa is still trying to reach that level. Many key Sens players (Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Andrej Meszaros, Antoine Vermette) have close to zero postseason experience, and though I believe they’re ready to be big playoff performers, until it happens its an unknown entity. The goaltending is also important here because neither Ray Emery nor John Grahame have a single playoff game in the NHL under thei collective belts. If Sean Burke plays, he gives the Lightning a goalie who, at least, has played in some.
EDGE: Tampa Bay

COACHING:
Tortorella has a ring, and Bryan Murray doesn’t, but based on what has gone on in Tampa this season, it almost seems like the Bolts coach has lost his team. He’s an incredibly passionate bench boss who demands a lot of his players, and has routinely expressed disappointment with their underachieving ways this season. I can’t imagine that has gone over well. Murray’s message is still fresh with the Sens, who had tuned out Jacques Martin long ago. Even with Tortorella’s edge due to his Cup ring, I think Murray’s playoff experience supercedes that.
EDGE: Ottawa

THE VERDICT:
I’m expecting a high scoring exciting series with a lot of close games, but ultimately, the gap in quality of defence and special teams will be too much for Tampa to overcome.
OTTAWA in 5

6 Comments:

At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Tom DeChastelain said...

neil's 16 goals are a bit illusory, he has not scored a lot on even strength this calender yeare..I forget the number..but no more than 3 and likely less

varada has been an offensive albatross all season....vermette is a good young player but he season showed his periods of even strength goals occured when paired with Schubert and Kelly...or early when with Schaefer and Havlat...so unless Vermette suddenly blossoms to the point where he can take the game in his own hands or Neil regains a bit of scoring touch ,I don't see the fourth line contributing a lot of goals.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

They had many good chances Tuesday night and carried the play most of the time they were on the ice.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger Jeff J said...

Man, you're really trying hard not to jinx your team!

Ottawa's forwards are better all the way from #1 to #13. Toughness? No team pussyfooted their way through the season more than Tampa.

 
At 4:36 PM, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Bryan Murray has said he is going to shorten the bench a little and play the 4th line more sparingly in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. Most teams do this to some extent so I don't think the 4th line on either team will have much of an impact on the series.

If Tampa can get consistant goaltending they would be a pretty good team, but unfortunately they don't. Grahame is capable of posting a shut out one nigh and then giving up 6 goals the next. Inconsistancy in goal is Tampa's biggest problem. It almost cost them a playoff spot and should mean Ottawa has a fairly easy first round win.

 
At 9:55 PM, Blogger Spadinasaur said...

The second sentence looks wrong to me. Ottawa led the league in scoring this year.

 
At 1:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

chris,
accept it. We have an awesome powerplay. random dry spells are bound to happen when you talk about something that is only succesful 20% of the time. Look, the reason our powerplay doesn't ever seem to score at opportune times is that they score so many powerplay goals in general that they aren't generally in a need for goals.
lighten up we have a good powerplay

 

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