NHL First Round Playoff Preview: Ottawa Senators vs. Boston Bruins

Scott Maxwell
April 11 2017 12:00PM

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© Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

This is part of a playoff preview series based at  NHLNumbers.com

Looks like we got a battle of analytics vs. eye test right here. On one end, we have the Boston Bruins, who lead the league in score adjusted Corsi For%, and under performed for a good chunk of the season, due to a low shooting percentage, and poor goaltending from the backup position. On the other end, we have the Ottawa Senators, the worst playoff team in score adjusted Corsi For%, and over performed because, well, they have a god on their team. A beautiful, Swedish god by the name of Erik Karlsson. And some average goaltending.

SEASON SERIES

The most interesting part about these teams is that, despite the contrasting possession games, Ottawa ended up sweeping the season series in the four games. However, none of them were by more than two goals, as they won with scores of 3-1, 4-2, 3-2, and a 2-1 shootout win, with the last three being played in March or April. So, while the initial impression is that Ottawa dominated, that's far from the case, as they merely seemed to get by in those games.

The first game saw David Pastrnak open the scoring, but the Sens would get three unanswered goals from Mark Stone, Chris Wideman, and Kyle Turris to win the game 3-1. Anderson stopped 19 of 20 for a relatively easy victory, while Ottawa had an edge in 5v5 shot attempts at 41-34.

The second game saw Ottawa explode for two early goals from Derick Brassard and Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the first 3:25 of the game. The Bruins would attempt to close the lead, drawing within one twice, but an empty net goal from Alex Burrows would end the game for good at 4-2. It was a 50-50 draw in the shot attempts department as well. Literally, it was 50-50.

The third game would be just over two weeks later. Tom Pyatt would open the scoring 4:09 in, and the teams would alternate scoring, including Turris' game winner for his second of the night. Anderson stopped 34 of 36 in the win, while Boston would see a 39-26 lead in the shot attempts, and had only three players below 50%, while the Sens only had three players above 50%.

They would wrap up the season series just last Thursday. Drew Stafford would open the scoring in the first, while Burrows would tie it in the second. The 1-1 score would hold until the shootout, where Turris would score the only goal to sweep the season series, and (at the time) clinch their playoff spot. Both Rask and Anderson were spectacular, while the shot attempts finished at a super tight 43-42.

The Sens ended up on top all four games, but again, it doesn't really seem like Ottawa is the runaway favourite based off of the four games.

WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

Ottawa: 48.91% 5v5 GF%, 48.55% 5v5 CF%, 48.8% 5v5 FF%, 7.01% SH%, 92.64% SV%, 17% PP%, 79.7% PK%

Boston: 49.13% 5v5 GF%, 54.7% 5v5 CF%, 55.31% 5v5 FF%, 6.77% SH%, 91.36% SV%, 21.7% PP%, 85.7% PK%

Now we start to see what I was referring to in terms of the contrast of skill between the two. Look at any of the numbers, and the Bruins have the Sens beat in all except shooting and save percentage, but considering that those stats are more luck than skill based, that's not exactly a good thing. Goals, shot attempts, scoring chances, all of the advanced stats, the Bruins are the superior team. Not just slightly either, by a massive margin. The Bruins are first or second, while the Senators are bottom ten in the same stats. Even the power play and penalty kill, the Bruins are the better team.

Now, one thing of note, the Bruins have seen a bit of a decline in Fenwick For% and Corsi For% since the deadline, while the Senators have seen a bit of an increase. The Bruins still have better numbers, but it's a difference of 3-4%, not 5-6%.

The Bruins key to success this season has been from the usual suspects, as Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have been their usual possession dominant selves, while Marchand has displayed his scoring touch with 85 points in 80 games, and Pastrnak is having another excellent season. However, their secret weapon has been the success of their depth players, such as Frank Vatrano, Austin Czarnik, and Ryan Spooner. On the back end, Torey Krug has emerged as an elite defencemen, while improved seasons from Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller has allowed the team to emerge as a serious threat. Meanwhile, another solid season from Tuukka Rask has given them confidence between the pipes.

The Senators live and die by Erik Karlsson. They have some great forwards in Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, and Derick Brassard, but that back end's only hope is Karlsson. Without him, the team rarely seems to get anything done, as displayed by his late season injury, which saw Ottawa limp into the playoffs. The Sens have a couple solid young defensemen in Fredrik Claesson and Chris Wideman, but they're rarely played enough to be of significant impact. The rest of the blue line consists of Mark Borowiecki, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, and Cody Ceci, who are all possession black holes. Their only hope is that Craig Anderson stands on his head and has a monster series.

WHY YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR THE SENATORS

If you like seeing grumpy beat writers in their 50s be happy, cheer for the Sens. As this year's version of the outlier, the Sens are the face of the anti-analytics movement this year, so if you want the bad guys to win, go ahead.

Now, if you want to actually feel good about yourself for cheering for the Sens. I guess you can cheer for them to see Erik Karlsson actually see some success. And if you like seeing every team succeed financially, that playoff revenue is mighty helpful to Eugene's wallet, although I don't know if you REALLY want to support that guy.

WHY YOU SHOULD CHEER FOR THE BRUINS

If you like seeing hilarious bloggers be happy, cheer for the Bruins. As the best possession team in the playoffs, the Bruins winning would continue to prove to the anti analytics crowd that advanced stats have their place in hockey, or at least to the few idiots who still haven't been convinced after all these years of being proven wrong.

Also, let's be honest, you want to see Sens twitter get kicked off that mighty high horse that they've been riding. Coming from a Leafs fan who saw these same guys discredit the 2012-13 and 2013-14 Leafs teams for their bad possession, it's hilarious seeing how oblivious they are to how bad their team actually is, despite being into analytics themselves.

Finally, if you're a Karlsson fan, and want him on your team, you want the Bruins to sweep the series. Melnyk needs to convince Karlsson that this team can be competitive, and nothing will prove that they can't by getting swept and then regressing the next season. That happens, Karlsson's chances of becoming a free agent in 2019 increase significantly, and suddenly YOUR team has a chance to sign him.

SCHEDULE

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PREDICTION

Boston Bruins win in five games. The Bruins are just too good of team this year to say that they'll be bounced in the first round, never mind to the Senators. The Bruins depth up front will eat the Senators defence alive, especially if Karlsson's late-season injury proves to be an issue down the road. Meanwhile, the Bruins defence has been good enough to put a hold on the Senators limited offensive weapons. The goaltending is about even, but that area holds the most wild cards, especially if Anderson does that thing that he does occasionally where he just owns a team in a series, or if Rask gets hurt for the Bruins, and they have to resort to a backup goalie, which they haven't fared too well with all season. However, barring a miracle, this series should see a Boston victory.

Other previews

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens 

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