The boat has stopped rocking in Ottawa – momentarily, at least – so it’s time to look forward to a post-season in which the East is the Sens’ to lose.
The Senators have one game against St. Louis Thursday, then it’s Northeast Division rivals the rest of the way. This will be where Ottawa’s seeding in the East is decided and the Sens would do themselves a favor by taking it seriously.
Currently sitting in fifth place, the Sens actually match up quite well with the currently fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
The common refrain right now is you don’t want to meet Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the playoffs, especially since the jitters they experienced in a first-round loss against the Sens last year will largely be gone and they have Marian Hossa to count on, as well. The retort, of course, is the goalie you do want to meet in the first round is Marc-Andre Fleury, whose inconsistency has translated into a lack of faith from his coach, rivaled only by the Sens and Martin Gerber.
While Gerber has worked his way into the good books in Bytown, Fleury has been outplayed by Ty Conklin. But expect the Pens to go with the former to begin the post-season.
Catching the New Jersey Devils for first in the conference will not be easy for the Sens; the Devils have two more wins and a game in hand with less than 10 games to play, but Montreal could be usurped for the Northeast Division crown.
Ottawa is 5-1-0 against the Habs this year and play them two more times. Add in two games against a depleted Toronto squad – which historically bows to the Sens in the regular season – and the foundation is there.
Taking the divisional crown would give the Sens the second seed in the East, putting them up against a Boston team they have a winning record against, or a Flyers squad already bruised by injuries and taking on water in the tough Atlantic Division. There’s also an outside chance Ottawa could face the same Sabres (another squad with a stacked IR list) team it ousted last season.
All in all, a first-round victory is looking pretty good right now, regardless of whether the Sens have home-ice advantage.
This column also appears in the Ottawa Metro newspaper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appears Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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