It’s been well-documented at this point that the Rangers ousted the Canadiens in the first round by prioritizing skill throughout their lineup at forward. Montreal was a well-coached team with outstanding goaltending, but they were simply unable to match New York’s depth.
Though they employ a structured, defensive style of hockey, the Ottawa Senators pose a very different challenge for the Rangers to deal with in the second round of the playoffs. Head coach Guy Boucher is well-known for not just his neutral zone trap, but also juggling his lines.
After watching much of their first round series with the Bruins, it seemed as though the only constant (besides Erik Karlsson being outrageous) was Boucher’s line juggling. To wit:
The Senators, like many successful teams in the NHL, roll four lines that boast plenty of speed. And while their one true game-breaker is a defenseman, there’s still quite a bit of skill up front that could give the Rangers’ defense corps fits.
Headlining the forward group is old friend Derick Brassard, whose 8 points are second in the NHL playoffs so far (side note: Evgeni Malkin has 11…what?!). Brassard built his reputation as a clutch performer in New York, and has picked up right where he left off. Paired often with Bobby Ryan, that’s a forward duo that can cause damage, particularly if they get a favorable matchup (say, against Nick Holden and Marc Staal).
The Senators also feature three legitimate snipers, with Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone all boasting lethal wrist shots that can beat goalies clean. Clarke MacArthur rounds out the top of Ottawa’s forward group. A veteran in the midst of an inspiring comeback from multiple concussions, MacArthur has a knack for getting to the right spot and finishing, particularly on the power play.
The Senators’ depth forwards are deployed throughout the lineup in order to distribute the scoring wealth evenly. Ryan Dzingel and Viktor Stalberg will often play in the top six while John-Gabriel Pageau commonly centers Stone and Hoffman. After dealing with a lot of cheap shot artistry from Montreal, the Rangers should be well-prepared for any potential antics from Alexandre Burrows.
For the Rangers, they simply need to stick with what’s working. It’s not a stretch to say that inserting Pavel Buchnevich for Tanner Glass and reuniting him with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider was the turning point in round one. This enabled the Rangers to truly roll four skilled lines capable of handling any type of matchup. The Rangers stood up to Montreal’s size and toughness and were able to drive play for most of the final three games of the series.
Still, they’ll need more from quite a few players. Kevin Hayes and JT Miller couldn’t get much going until Game 6, and Derek Stepan’s lone goal of the opening round was scored into an empty net. If those guys can raise their respective games to match the high levels of Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Zibanejad, the Rangers will be very tough to beat.
It’s difficult to handicap this matchup, as the forward groups are constructed in a similar fashion, though coached to play a very different way. I believe the Rangers own a razor-thin advantage, due to superior depth; namely a “third line” that boasts the team’s two top scorers in Zuccarello and Miller.
For the Rangers, as always, their best defense is a good offense."Rangers vs. Senators - Forwards Preview",