Montreal Canadiens' Keys to a Round One Win over the Ottawa Senators
The Montreal Canadiens won 50 games in 2014-15 and are the Atlantic Division regular-season champions. And now that it's playoff time, all of that means nothing.
The Senators are on an incredible 21-3-3 run. Getting past them in the first round isn't going to be easy. It'll take a healthy Max Pacioretty, a hot Carey Price and a few other factors.
Here are the Montreal Canadiens' five keys to beating the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Max Pacioretty's Health
The Montreal Canadiens scored 2.61 goals per game this season. That ranks them 20th in the NHL—dead last among playoff teams.
This is a team that struggles to score goals. The Canadiens desperately need their 37-goal scorer.
A report from Sean Farrell of NHL.com says Pacioretty is not expected to suit up for Game 1. This is mostly because he has not yet been cleared for game action by the team's medical staff. He has, however, been cleared for contact.
It is the NHL playoffs, so you never know what to believe when it comes to injury reports. But assuming NHL.com is correct and Pacioretty does not play in Game 1, it will be a huge blow to the Habs.
The fact that he has been cleared for contact is obviously a step in the right direction. If he does sit out Game 1, Canadiens fans will be praying his health improves enough for him to be back in the lineup for Game 2.
Shutting Down Ottawa's 1st Line
Most pinpoint the Ottawa Senators' turnaround to goaltender Andrew Hammond, and in fairness, he was spectacular down the stretch. But there were a few other reasons for the Senators' incredible run, and one of those is rookie Mark Stone.
The emergence of the 22-year-old winger has given Ottawa a good top line, with Kyle Turris in the middle and Clarke MacArthur on the left side. This line is a big reason Ottawa even made the playoffs, with Stone ending the season on a nine-game point streak (eight goals, five assists).
Overall, Stone finished the season with 26 goals and 38 assists (64 points). He'll certainly be in the running for the Calder Trophy. His linemates put up decent numbers too, as Turris had 64 points and MacArthur had 36 (in 62 games).
The Senators do have some secondary scoring, with Bobby Ryan, Mike Hoffman and others, but it's clear the Canadiens need to shut down this No. 1 trio.
Up front, the Tomas Plekanec line and the Lars Eller line will likely share those duties. Michel Therrien trusts both lines defensively, and you can bet one of them will be on against the Turris line at all times.
On defense, it'll be P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov. They're Montreal's top pairing both offensively and defensively, and it'll be up to them to slow down Stone and company.
P.K. Subban Outplaying Erik Karlsson
One of the most exciting elements of this all-Canadian matchup is P.K. Subban vs. Erik Karlsson. And if Montreal is to win in Round 1, it'll probably because Subban outplayed the Senators captain.
The regular-season stats look like this. Subban had 15 goals and 45 assists, while Karlsson had 21 goals and 45 assists. Subban was a plus-21, and Karlsson was a plus-seven. Subban averaged 26:12, Karlsson 27:15.
There really isn't much separating these two. In fact, you could make a compelling case that either deserves the Norris Trophy. But that will reward the defender who had the better regular season.
The greater prize will be getting his team to Round 2.
For Subban, that will mean shutting down Ottawa's top line while still being a catalyst on offense. He'll need to make hits at the right time, rush up the ice when the chance presents itself and stay out of the penalty box.
Most importantly, Subban will need to score on the power play. He's the Habs' lightning rod with the man advantage, and his scoring a few power-play markers in Round 1 will go a long way to getting the Canadiens four wins.
Solving Andrew Hammond
Andrew Hammond. Who is this guy?
Well, he's 27 years old and hails from Surrey, British Columbia. He's an undrafted, free-agent goaltender out of Bowling Green State University. And he has mediocre AHL stats, with a 3.51 GAA and a .891 save percentage in Binghamton this season.
Yet now he finds himself going head-to-head with the best goaltender in the planet on hockey's biggest stage in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
All this because he was thrust into action on Feb. 18 when the Senators' top two goaltenders, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner, were hurt.
Since then, all he's done is go 20-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA and a .941 save percentage. It's simply amazing.
Now the Habs are tasked with figuring him out, something they weren't able to do on Feb. 18, when Hammond made 42 saves for his first NHL win. Nor were the Canadiens able to beat him on March 12, when he needed 27 saves for the victory.
Hammond has the Canadiens' number so far. Actually, he has most teams' numbers; the New York Rangers were the only team to defeat him in regulation this season.
There's not going to be any big secret on how to score on Hammond. Montreal is going to have to get to the net, provide screens, tip shots and make his life miserable. And it's going to have to shoot the puck. A lot.
The Canadiens are 0-of-2 in trying to beat Hammond so far in 2015, scoring just four total goals against him. They're going to have to figure him out, and quickly, if they want to avoid an upset.
This one is obvious, but it still needs to be mentioned: Carey Price is the biggest key to Montreal beating Ottawa in Round 1.
Just like he was the biggest reason Montreal won the Atlantic. And just like he'll be the biggest key if Montreal is to move deep into the playoffs.
What a season it has been for Price, who set a team record with 44 wins. He also led the league in GAA (1.96) and save percentage (.933).
Price is Montreal's best player, the clear-cut favorite for the Vezina Trophy and a sure finalist for the Hart Trophy. He's the reason Montreal won 50 games, and he'll be the reason Montreal beats Ottawa.
All stats from NHL.com.