Ottawa at Anaheim
|Ottawa (road)||Anaheim (home)|
|Predicted Winner||Anaheim (Some)|
|Last 10 Games||6-2-2||5-3-2|
It cannot be argued that the Senators and Ducks have been the best teams in the eastern and western conferences these playoffs. The Senators made it to the Stanley Cup losing just 3 games and the Ducks lost just 4 on their route to the Cup and only a strong team in Detroit gave them any kind of challenge. So, the question becomes, which team is better. Well, during the regular season the western conference was by far the better conference as teams in the west compiled an outstanding 82-48-20 record against teams in the east and only Chicago and Columbus had sub .500 record. It could also be argued that Minnesota was a better team than Pittsburgh, Vancouver was a better team than New Jersey and Detroit was as good or better then Buffalo. All-in-all, I think Anaheim had the tougher path to the Stanley Cup than Ottawa.
For Ottawa, they finally obtained playoff success by playing a significantly different style of game that they have in past playoffs and even different that how they played in the regular season. In past playoffs and in the regular season they tried to play an offensive style game and in large part tried to out score their opposition. In the playoffs they have played the opposite style of game by trying to give up fewer offensive chances and goal than the opposition do and by capitalizing on turnovers and power plays. The statistics back this up in dramatic fashion. In the regular season the Senators averaged 32.3 goals for and gave up 30.2 shots against. In the playoffs they have average fewer shots for per game (30.23) and significantly fewer shots against per game (24.4) and the differences would be even more dramatic if you adjusted to a per 60 minute basis because of the longer overtimes in the playoffs.
With that in mind, I think the question for Anaheim becomes, can Anaheimâ€™s offence break through Ottawaâ€™s defensive play? Well, the Anaheim Ducks have average 32.3 shots per game and 2.42 goals per game these playoffs against Minnesota, Vancouver and Detroit, all very solid defensive teams so I think they should be well prepared for a defensive-minded team in Ottawa. If the Ducks can get close to 30 shots a game on Ray Emery they should get enough offence to win the series. What the Ducks bring that the Senators have not faced yet in these playoffs is a far more aggressive, physical forecheck and I think we need to watch how Ottawaâ€™s defence handles that. In particular, watch the Redden-Meszaros pairing because at times in the past those guys have backed down from the physical play. If Ottawaâ€™s defence is at all intimidated by Anaheimâ€™s physical play the series wonâ€™t go well for the Senators.
The other reason Ottawa has made the finals is by the offensive production of Ottawaâ€™s top line of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley. That trio has combined to score 23 of Ottawaâ€™s 46 goals in the playoffs while the rest of the Senators forwards have combined for just 17 goals in 15 games. The challenge for the Ducks is to figure out how to stop Ottawaâ€™s big line and a huge part of that is going to be placed on the shoulders of Selke Trophy nominee Samuel Pahlsson and Norris Trophy nominee Chris Pronger. This is going to be an interesting match up because while Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley have never faced anyone close to the calibre of Pronger in these playoffs, the Ducks have never faced a line the quality of Ottawaâ€™s top line either. If the Ducks can hold Ottawaâ€™s big three to no more than one goal a game they will be in good shape but that will be tough, particularly if the Ducks take too many penalties.
The final thing I want to point out before I make a prediction is what I pointed out prior to the Sens-Sabres series. Back then I mentioned I thought it was important to put some pressure on the Senators by winning early and maybe putting some doubt in the minds of the Senators players. The same holds true in this series. In all three of their series so far the Senators have come out playing hard in game one and ended up winning all three game ones in relatively dominating fashion. The Ducks need to turn that around and take it to the Sens as much as the Sens are likely to take it to them in game one and let the Senators know that they have a tough series on their hand and nothing is going to be easy. Two factors that might come into play here is whether the Senators will be a tad rusty after having a full 8 days off and whether Ottawa will be at all affected by the travel to the west coast, something they havenâ€™t done all season. What happens in game 1 of this series could set the tone for the rest of the series so it should be interesting to watch.
Ok, so now for my prediction. I think dealing the Ducks with their aggressive, physical play, something the Senators have not faced these playoffs, will be a huge challenge for Ottawa in this series. That aggressive play will mean the Ducks will take some penalties and give Ottawa lots of chances on the power play which will keep them in the games but I think 5 on 5 Anaheim will be the better team and will break down the Senators defensive game. I also think Giguere is a better goalie and will out play Emery and the Ducks aggressive fore check will allow them to capitalize on Emeryâ€™s rebounds. In the end I think the Ducks take the series. Prediction: Ducks in 6.