A 6-3 blitzing of the Buffalo Sabres came at a very good time for the Sens this week. The win represented the fourth consecutive game in which Ottawa’s offensive output had increased, even though several of those games were losses.
Since returning from a mediocre West Coast road trip, Ottawa is back to playing Senators hockey, scoring an average of 3.7 goals per game in the past seven outings. This bodes well for a team that is at its best when blowing the doors off the hinges and overwhelming an opponent.
As a momentum builder for the playoffs, this recent trend is also an important stepping stone. If the Senators are to repeat as Eastern Conference champs, they will play one or more of the following teams along the way: New Jersey, Montreal, Pittsburgh or the New York Rangers.
The Canadiens and Penguins can put up goals in a hurry, so the Sens, who do not have an elite goaltender, will have to respond in kind. The bruising Ottawa put on the Baby Pens last season will not work again; Pittsburgh has learned what playoff hockey is about and got bigger in the form of players such as 6-foot-7 rearguard Hal Gill and 6-foot-3 forward Jeff Taffe.
As for the Devils and Rangers, the key is between the pipes. Martin Brodeur is a post-season legend and will end his career as the best goalie of all-time. Henrik Lundqvist is only one of the best young keepers in the game, so success against either will require a maximum assault of pucks.
Therein lies the challenge with these Sens. As statistics bear out, many of Ottawa’s players haven’t showed up on the spring score sheets as often as they did in the winter months, which must change if the Stanley Cup is to be snatched.
Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette and Christoph Schubert all produce at less than half their normal points rates in the playoffs and that must change this year. For comparison’s sake, look at a multiple Cup winner such as New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner: The veteran right winger consistently scores at a greater rate in the post-season than he does in the regular campaign. Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom is another player whose star rises when the games matter most.
If Ottawa is to finally bring the Cup home, someone who isn’t named Spezza, Heatley or Alfredsson must find the back of the net with more authority.
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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