The Ottawa Senators will have gone eight days between games by the time the Stanley Cup Finals open, and their coach, Bryan Murray, realizes that could be a problem.
|Former Ducks coach and GM Bryan Murray hopes an eight-day layoff isn't too much for Ottawa. (AP)|
"We couldn't play the first two games," Murray said. "We had no chance in the first two games, no legs, no willingness to make contact."
This time, Murray has kept things going at a controlled pace with practices, even having the players go through full scrimmages, albeit without hitting. The coach says a few days off is good if there are injuries, but the Senators have been remarkably healthy. So trying to figure out the impact of being idle is little more than a way to pass the time, Murray says.
"If you win, it's a good thing, if you don't, it's bad," Murray said.
And until everyone finds out, here are some things to know about the Senators:
1. Ottawa has been getting more contributions from more people than Anaheim in the playoffs, but the Senators' biggest advantage might be their skating ability. Aside from having more foot speed up and down the lineup than Detroit, the Senators are quick to transition, which will put a lot more pressure on the Ducks. The Red Wings were fast enough to push Anaheim into hooking and interference calls because the Ducks couldn't keep up. Anaheim struggled early against Detroit's power play, and Ottawa's has been deadly for most of the playoffs.
2. The Senators' penalty killers destroyed Buffalo in the East finals and will be critical against Anaheim -- and not only in terms of stopping the Ducks' power play. Ottawa rotates forwards Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly and Daniel Alfredsson when it is shorthanded, and they have created some havoc at the other end of the ice. Fisher's early shorthanded goal in Game 1 against Buffalo was arguably the series-turner, and with defensemen Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer often pinching on power plays, the Ducks could be vulnerable.
3. Despite all the talk about Anaheim's blue line, the Ottawa defense might actually be better because it's deeper and has its time distributed better. The Senators have a talented group back there, even if it doesn't produce much in the way of big stats. Ottawa's defensemen get some points, but they are very strong in their own end, and they move the puck well enough to let the forwards do their thing. And the Senators don't use their two best shutdown defensemen -- Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov (or Andrej Meszaros, either) -- on the power plays. That keeps a lot of important players fresh a lot longer.
4. One player to watch along the Ottawa blue line is Joe Corvo, who was signed as a free agent last summer and was considered a disappointment for most of the first half. So was the rest of the team for that matter, but Corvo has been important in the playoffs, particularly for his role on the power play. The Oak Park, Ill., native has become an excellent quarterback because of the way he floats along the offensive blue line and gets off big-time slap shots that are almost always around the net.
5. Goalie Ray Emery was considered the Senators' biggest question mark, if not their weakest link, heading into the playoffs, but he has been extremely solid and has already taken the team farther than it has ever been. Much like Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Emery always seems to be square to the shooter and has been tough to beat when he gets good looks at shots. Still, he tends to give up some dangerous rebounds, which the Devils pointed out to no avail in Round 2, and it's often an adventure when he leaves the crease.
6. No matter how well Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley have played for the Senators, you have to wonder if they can win a Stanley Cup counting so much on one line. They are the top scorers in the playoffs and have 23 goals between them, compared to 17 for all the other forwards. But what shouldn't be overlooked about the No. 1 line is its defensive play. They're all hustling back into their own end, and they're a collective plus-21.
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7. Speaking of impact lines, Ottawa has had one with the fourth unit that often seems like a 3½. Dean McAmmond and Christoph Schubert have been the mainstays, with Oleg Saprykin adding a worthwhile dimension when he replaced concussed Patrick Eaves in the first round. Eaves is back now, and the line is still getting more than a nominal amount of ice time because it has prevented opponents from getting a breather with its high-energy play.
8. Game 1 will be Ottawa's first time outside the Eastern time zone since March 4 in Chicago, which says a lot about the travel benefits of playing in its conference. While the Ducks have had to go back and forth in series against Minnesota and Detroit, the Senators have had short hops to Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo. That might explain why Ottawa is 7-1 on the road and 3-1 in elimination games.
9. The dubious distinction award for this Stanley Cup Finals goes to backup goalie Martin Gerber, who was the team's biggest free-agent signing last summer. Things didn't work out well early this season, and Gerber lost his starting job to Emery and now gets to watch the game from the end of the bench. Again. Gerber led Carolina to a division title last season but was benched after struggling through two bad games in Round 1. His replacement, Cam Ward, was named the playoff MVP as the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, and so was Giguere in 2003 when Gerber was backing him up.
10. Ottawa showed a robot-like efficiency through an incredible second-half turnaround and has been just as good in the playoffs, getting past three rounds in just 15 games. The Senators never trailed in a series and seem to be peaking at the right time, which is good news for their fans not only for now, but the foreseeable future, since the team has 13 current players signed for next season. One guy who isn't under contract after this season is the coach, Murray.