NHL Second Round Playoff Preview: New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Pat Keogh
April 27 2017 09:00AM

The dust has settled on the first round and here at NHL Numbers we have yet another second round series to preview, the New York Rangers/Ottawa Senators Eastern Conference Semifinal. After a hard-hitting series against Montreal in which ultimately speed and skill prevailed, the Rangers will head to Ottawa starting on Thursday night to meet their opponents, fresh off their own triumph over the injury-depleted Boston Bruins. 

That series saw big performances from Ottawa’s big guns, such as Derick Brassard, Bobby Ryan, and of course the sensational Erik Karlsson. The big question that this series will answer is whether New York’s speed game can break through Ottawa’s defensive system, and who will prevail among the two Swedish superstars on opposite ends of the ice, Henrik Lundqvist or the aforementioned Erik Karlsson.

SEASON SERIES

The Senators and the Rangers first met this season in New York on November 27th, the result of which was a 2-0 shutout in favour of the visiting team. It was a relatively low event game, and New York uncharacteristically carried both most of the possession and scoring chances, with a CF% of 53.85% and an xGF% of 62.23% to Ottawa’s 46.15 CF% and 37.77 xGF%. 

Still, the Senators came out on top, with JG Pageau and Mark Stone scoring the two goals. The Senators returned to the Garden exactly a month later on December 27th, an outing that went much better for the Rangers. In this one, two goals each from Nick Holden and Derek Stepan lifted the team past the Senators three goal performance, although the story of the game was quite the opposite of their first matchup. In this one the Rangers had a 40.85 CF% to the Senators’ 59.15, with an xGF% of 38.92% to their opponent’s 61.18%. 

The Rangers, as they say, “found a way to win”, and it’s worth noting in both of these first two games the Rangers were playing in front of Antti Raanta (Ottawa was also playing in front of their backup, in the second game, Mike Condon). Round three of the season series was played in Ottawa on April 8th, a game which saw the home team beat the Rangers 3-1. The Rangers were absolutely stymied by the Senators’ play, carrying only a 41.18 CF% and a staggeringly bad 23.72 xGF%, Ottawa’s numbers in those categories being 58.82 and 76.28, respectively. Suffice to say that the Rangers will be hoping for better as they head into this series, while the Senators should look to continue their habit of stifling the Rangers with strong defensive play.

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WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY

NYR: Game 1, 48.39 CF% 59.16 xGF%; Game 2, 40.97 CF% 31.56 xGF%; Game 3, 44.44 CF% 32.98 xGF%; Game 4, 58.06 CF% 60.51 xGF%; Game 5, 50.39 CF% 50.12 xGF%; Game 6, 43.93 CF% 54.23 xGF% 

OTT: Game 1, 54.84 CF% 43.99 xGF%; Game 2, 44.9 CF% 51.92 xGF%; Game 3, 53.33 CF% 49.78 xGF%; Game 4, 50 CF% 53.39 xGF%; Game 5, 48.2 CF% 57.56 xGF%; Game 6, 52.69 CF% 51.73 xGF%

So I figured I’d do something a little bit different and give you each team’s numbers from the last round, thinking it might help you get an idea of the kind of form they’re in (small sample size I know, but I still think it can tell you some things). 

In order to make sense of this all I’ll say at the outset that the Rangers won Game 1, lost Games 2 and 3, and then won Games 4, 5, and 6. On the Canadian side of things Ottawa lost Game 1, won the next three, lost Game 5, and won Game 6. Based on just the win/loss record alone we might infer that the Rangers are on something of a streak, having won their last three after a woeful performance on Easter Sunday, while the Senators were a bit more up and down (albeit with a three game win streak of their own sandwiched in there). Broadly, we can see that the Rangers struggled with possession in their series against Montreal, finishing with a 5v5 CF% above 50 only twice out of the six games they played, although they won both of those games. 

On the flip side, Ottawa finished at or above 50% four times, demonstrating that if nothing else, their defensive system helps control the pace of play. Of course it did much more than that, with the team’s xGF% numbers also being pretty elevated, just about on par with how the Rangers did in terms of scoring chances. As far as goaltending goes Henrik Lundqvist finished the series against Montreal with a .947 save percentage and a shutout, demonstrating once again with his big time saves that he came prepared for the postseason. Craig Anderson didn’t do quite as hot, but his .921 save percentage and one shutout are similarly respectable – he’ll be no slouch in net against the Rangers. Ultimately what this series will come down to is efficiency; if the Rangers can capitalize on the limited scoring chances they’re bound to get they’ll be in solid shape, but if the Senators dampen the pace of play with their superb puck possession game and go further beyond that to limit high danger rush chances this series could tilt towards Ottawa.

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WHY ROOT FOR THE RANGERS/SENATORS

Aside from the reasons mentioned in my first round playoff preview (Hank, the Rangers’ speed game, etc.) and the obvious joy of watching Erik Karlsson play on the Sens side of things, your rooting interest in this series is going to come down to where you stand on the Derick Brassard/Mika Zibanejad trade. I say this for two reasons – first is that just on the terms of the trade, you’ll either be pulling for one side or the other, but what’s more important is the fallout. 

Something that’s perhaps not widely known around the league is that while he was on the Rangers, Derick Brassard had the world’s most important bromance with Mats Zuccarello, everyone’s favourite hobbit. The trade last summer rent this bromance in two, and now what once was #squadgoals is now certifiable postseason enmity. Zucc has already publicly stated that he doesn’t even know Brass, and given the way both he and his former BFF Brass came up big for their respective teams in the last round there’s bound to be plenty of activity along this fault line in the series to come. So I guess what I’m saying is this: are you on Team Mats or Team Brass?

Schedule

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Prediction

This one will be tighter than Rangers fans might like, but ultimately Henrik Lundqvist will seal the deal by Game 6, at which point Zucc and Brass will meet for a tender embrace at center ice and the existence of love will once again be extant on this Earth. 

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