Monday, April 23, 2007

First Round Festivus

Since we've got until Thursday at the earliest, why not take this opportunity provided by the Sens unexpectedly early dispatch of the Penguins for the airing of grievances? No need to be unduly harsh, just things that are going to have to be cleaned up for a successful second round.

I'll start by echoing some of Conrad's thoughts below:

I don't know how I feel about Heatley being so blase about not scoring much. On one hand he's got a good sense of perspective, e.g. "I'm getting my chances, they'll go in eventually" instead of despairing. On the other hand, this guy has got to start scoring if we're gonne get past the second round.

In general, I think Heatley is going to have to be much, much better, as in Jagr better to carry the required offensive load. He's tentatively confirmed an Ottawa victory in the Heatley-Hossa deal, but only because the latter went out without even a slight impact on a ridiculously quick series.

I know someone says this every year, but I've been watching Sens hockey for a few years now and this team really does feel different. This is the first and only time I've watched a Sens team out-muscle and out-hit another team in a balanced way. They'd sometimes come out against the Leafs and run everybody, and still give up the first goal. Last year the Sens had an All Star team - tons of individual talent, but they didn't play together. That doesn't seem to be the case now.

A question asked was how the Sens fans attitudes have changed compared to last year. Were we nearly as fired up after knocking off Tampa? As my post "act like ya been there before" implied, I certainly wasn't planning any parades and a quick check of the media archives suggest there was no where near the kind of plaudits heaped on the team that we are reading lately. IIRC, the focus then was on Alfie's lack of output (he was stuck on the third line and looked lost), Volchenkov's giveaways [!], Chara's performance on 2 on 1's and their good fortune at having some pitiful goaltending to pick apart. Add in the ghost of Hasek still haunting the dressing room and I don't think anyone was particularly cocky going up against the Sabres.

McAmmond was a great signing at less than a mil. I hope he's back next year.

Finding the perfect million dollar player to add to your roster may turn out to be the key to success in the cap era. Look at how many multi-million dollar salaries were sent packing after the first round. Tkachuk, Forsberg, Smyth. Can our million dollar guys (Vermette, Neil, McAmmond) outplay the Devils million dollar guys (Zajac, Pandolfo, Parise)?
I wouldn't mind them trading Redden to Edmonton for Torres, some picks or just for the cap room. He was terrible last night, and it was the game where a lot of people saw "improvement." He's just nowhere these days.

Despite being second ranked after round one, the PP always seems to need improvement (particularly the 5 on 3s) and I think a lot of the responsibility for getting it rolling and keeping it rolling will fall on Redden. More importantly for the second defensive pairing, at even strength they are going to handle a hell of a lot more pressure than they faced with Pittsburgh. I couldn't understand why Therrien keep bunching Malkin and Crosby together against Philchenkov when many more opportunities could avail themselves when Redden and Meszaros were out there. Speaking of special teams, the Devils are in close proximity (ranked immediately behind the Sens after round one) and seem to have a knack for flipping a switch and scoring clutch goals when needed. In another surprise, our first round PK is 9th, with the Devils right behind. In the regular season the Senators had the better PP (though neither team's was that great) and a worse PK than the Devils.

Here are the lines you need to counter (estimated from the shift charts for the last game against Tampa):

Elias / Gomez / Gionta
Parise / Zajac / Langenbrunner
Pandolfo / Madden / Brylin

Line 2 just slapped the Sens around this year. 4A for Zajac; 2G, 3A for Parise and 2G, 2A for Langenbrunner. Did I mention Redden and Mesjaros are going to have their work cut out for them? Since the Devils feast on turnovers, Corvo's bravery in the offensive zone could become a liability once again.

Another possible concern is the Senators top line being contained. Five games together would have been an exceedingly long stretch during the regular season and it remains to be seen whether they'll stick together for a deep playoff run. Any lack of production could trigger one of Coach Murray's trademark line shuffles. While Alfie can boost the performance of any line, a struggling Heatley or Spezza are going to need more than an unconcussed Patrick Eaves to get them going again.

The biggest upside in my opinion? The Devils just dispensed with an exhausted three man band that somehow managed to steal a couple of games from them. The Sens are miles deeper than Tampa and have far better goaltending. Brodeur is damn good, but not scary good. He is beatable and the Devils, despite a very similar year-to-year roster (with all those cup rings) seem to either roll to the final or drop out quietly in round 1 or 2. The latter sounds like a plausible option to me.

UPDATE: A take from the Battle of NY here.

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