2017 Playoff Primer #2: Sens vs Bruins

Photo Credit:  Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

By Scott Rosenhek

I am going to using a variety of statistics to build a case for my predictions. I will also place more emphasis on even strength stats (5 on 5) as power plays are variable and not as reliable in ultimately predicting wins. Any stats per 60 minutes will be used to normalize overtime games. Here are some definitions for the abbreviations I will be using.

CF/CA/CF% (corsi for, against and percent; corsi is the sum of all shots, including those that are block and those miss the goal; the percentage is corsi for over the sum of corsi for and against)

FF/FA/FF% (fenwick for, against and percent; similar to corsi, except fenwick excludes blocked shots; some argue this has a stronger correlation with scoring chances)

GF/GA/GF% (goals for, against and percentage)

Stats sourced from http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/index.php and www.sportingcharts.com

As a Canuck fan, this will be an interesting series to watch. The Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins both missed the playoffs last year and have bounced back well to enter the post-season dance.

Alex Burrows will be facing down his old foes in Boston, but this time around, he will be donning red and black instead of blue and green. This interdivisional match in the Atlantic will be fun to track for the storylines alone!

Ottawa Senators

Ottawa has home ice advantage thanks to a 44-28-10 record. The Sens have a GF% of 48.9 (19th in the league) and a 2.07 GF/60 (22nd in the league). From these stats, we can see that Ottawa is not producing offence at an efficient rate. A GF% less than 50 means they are surrendering more goals than they are scoring.

When it comes to total shot events, the story does not get better. Ottawa has a CF% of 48.5 (also 22nd in the league), further adding to the fact that they give up more shots on goal than they take. The good news for Ottawa is that they have a CF/60 of 54.8, meaning they produce several attempts on the opposition. The problem is they give up more of these chances, which can be problematic in the long term.

The Senators have the 23rd ranked power play with a 17% success rate. The PK fairs no better with a kill efficiency of 79.7%. Normally I would not put much stock in special teams’ percentage since they are less predictable, but it would be best for the Sens to stay out of the penalty box.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins are back with a record of 44-31-7. Their GF% is 49.1 with a GF/60 of 2.20, good for 17th in the league. When I said this series would be interesting, it wasn’t from a pure goal scoring perspective. Like the Sens, the Bruins are outscored by their opposition.

However, unlike Ottawa, the Bruins have the second-best CF% in the league with 54.7. This would be considered elite which doesn’t make sense since the Bruins are struggling to score. They have an astounding CF/60 of 60, so it begs the question: are the Bruins just unlucky? The short answer is no.

Yes, you can make the argument that having a 24th ranked team shooting percentage of 6.82 is not great. But what is bringing the Bruins down is their even strength save percentage. At .917, the Bruins’ goaltending is not holding up well enough at even strength. This is ranked 28th place in the league and Bruins fans may not want to hear this, but goaltending is hurting their team.

Special teams may turn out to be a saving grace for the Bruins as their power play success rate is 21.7% (7th best) and their penalty kill is the league’s best at 85.7%. Keep in mind that it is very unsustainable to rely on the referees to give you the opportunities you need to score. This is part of the reason why even strength numbers are relied on more.

I don’t have any data to support this, but perhaps Boston has the same problem as Los Angeles. They lead the league in corsi but have horrible goal scoring rates. Some have hypothesized that corsi needs to be refined and factor in “high quality” scoring chances. This could be the case, but I would need more information to verify and test this idea.

The Players

The Senators offensive woes are evident on their stat sheets as no forward on the team has at least 30 goals. One of their highest paid players is Bobby Ryan, who only has 13 goals. This is not good enough and he really needs to step up in the playoffs this year to help his team.

Kyle Turris, Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman will be leaned on for offense, while Derick Brassard will need to find his game in the playoffs. Brassard had his goal total slashed in half comparing this season to the previous one. Hopefully Alex Burrows can provide some stability through his years of playoff experience.

Ryan Dzingel and J-G Pageau have flown under the radar this year, but have had impressive seasons, Pageau has been raved about as a defensive ace. Ottawa only has 6 forwards with a CF% of at least 50%, shot suppression may prove difficult.

On the other hand, Boston has quite a bit of firepower in their forward group. They have 11 forwards with a CF% of at least 50% and are lead by the likes of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak an David Krejci.

Marchand had 39 goals and was a serious Art Ross contender late in the season. Additionally, David Pastrnak potted 34 goals this season. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron had slow starts to the season but have finished strong going into the playoffs. This forward group is formidable and deep. They will give the Senators a run for their money.

Ottawa has a distinct advantage on defence and his name is Erik Karlsson. He leads the team in points, CF% and has dramatically improved his defensive game under coach Guy Boucher. Dion Phaneuf is a solid part of the top 4 and Chris Wideman is a very underrated defensive defenseman.

This is where one of Boston’s weaknesses lie. On a good day, the Bruins D have been beaten on all season long. Zdeno Chara is slowing down as he gets older and can’t single-handedly support the defence alone. Torey Krug does lead Boston defensemen in points with 43 but he is injured. Brandon Carlo has had an impressive rookie season, but he is hurt as well.

Out of desperation, Boston called up recently signed 2016 first rounder Charlie McAvoy. The 19-year-old will play his first NHL game Saturday and will be relied upon in the top 4. That is a lot to ask from a young player who has never played a professional game before, but injuries have forced the Bruins’ hands.

Lastly, I want to discuss goaltending. Craig Anderson has overcome so much this year on a personal level. He plays for his wife who was diagnosed with cancer last year, and he plays for his team, his family on the ice.

Anderson has had one hell of a season, posting a .926 save percentage (3rd in the league) and a 2.28 GAA. He has been the main reason why the Senators have stuck around in so many games and it will be up to him to shut the door come playoff time.

Between the other pipes, Tuukka Rask has had an up and down season. His GAA is a little better than Anderson’s at 2.25. However, Rask’s save percentage plummeted this year. It is .915, which is 23rd overall in the NHL.

This combined with the fact that Anton Khudobin is not a stable back-up means Rask has to be on his game if the Bruins want to advance. The work will be tough for Rask since the Boston D will be outmatched.

The Coaches

When Guy Boucher took over, there was a promise that the Senators’ defensive woes would be alleviated. Their defensive play away from the puck has improved, but unfortunately the team does not produce a lot of offense.

Erik Karlsson will have to lead the charge, but at least this time he has more support in net and in front of him with this forward group. The Sens may surrender a lot of shots, indicated by their CA/60 (58.1), but they also block a tonne of shots. This is shown in their FA/60 of 41.9.

After it appeared the Bruins were free falling, Claude Julien was fired midseason. His replacement Bruce Cassidy was able to rally the Bruins back into a playoff spot with a string of wins and an impressive late push by Brad Marchand.

The Bruins have been able to efficiently suppress shot events against with the lowest league CA/60 (49.9). Their top 6 can be punishing if left uncontained. As a Canuck fan, I had to witness Brad Marchand pick apart our first line and top defensive pair. Ottawa will have to be ready to play.

Who do I think will win the series?

Despite my love for Alex Burrows and my distaste for the Boston Bruins, I will approach this as objectively as I can. Boston can be an offensive force to be reckon with, but I wonder if that forward group will be able to compensate for their weaknesses on defence and in goal.

The Senators don’t pack a punch from an array of elite players, but I think they can be a team that could be better than the sum of their parts. The holes in the Boston defence make me hard to believe that they can withstand a shot barrage.

I just feel Ottawa will be able to whether the storm possession-wise. The series will be physical, but this will be nothing new to the Senators. I believe they will hold their own and not get lost in the physical aspect of the game.

I predict the Ottawa Senators will win the series in 7 games.

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