In the opinion of one Eastern Conference executive, the Tampa Bay Lightning won't be a problem for the Senators.
Even though the Bolts are the defending Stanley Cup champions, the executive believes they don't have the depth to beat a determined Ottawa team when the puck drops on their quarter-final series tonight at Scotiabank Place.
"I just don't think this will be a problem for Ottawa," said the league executive yesterday. "You look at the talent -- and Tampa has plenty of it -- but Ottawa has better forwards and better defence. Yes, the goaltending is a question mark, but that's (also) Tampa's biggest issue."
With those thoughts in mind, here's how the Eastern executive breaks down this series:
The Senators boast speed and youth with Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Martin Havlat and Mike Fisher up front. The club had balanced scoring through the course of the regular season with many different players stepping up throughout. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is still the club's best player, but has to take it to another level in these playoffs. As for the Bolts, they're led by Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Frederik Modin. St. Louis was the league's MVP in 2004, but he's had his struggles this season. "The Senators aren't going to be trying to shut anybody down and they shouldn't," said the executive. "Ottawa is going to lead the charge in this series. They're going to try to stretch Tampa and force them to take chances which could lead to mistakes. If that happens and the Senators are allowed to use their speed, it could get ugly. Tampa has a lot of offence, but they haven't got that much." The executive said he hopes some of the Senators have learned from past playoff disappointments. "These guys have to be willing to pay the price," he said.
The Senators have the best blueline in the NHL. Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips, Anton Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros and Brian Pothier are tough to beat. Chara and Redden both eat up valuable minutes, but it's Chara who has to emerge as a force in this series. If the Bolts' forwards want to go to the front of the net, he's going to have to make them pay. Getting Phillips back from a knee injury is important because, if history repeats itself, he'll elevate his game in the post-season. This is where the Lightning doesn't compare. Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor are all strong, but the talent drops off after the top three. "I just don't think the Lightning can touch Ottawa in this area," said the executive.
Who will it be for the Bolts? John Grahame or Sean Burke? Sure, either could get hot during a seven-game series, but coach John Tortorella might have to stop his game of musical goalies to give a guy a chance. The Lightning was ranked 18th in the NHL in goaltending during the season with a lousy .889 save percentage. Not exactly sizzling. "I just don't think this club has confidence in its goaltending," said the executive. The Senators, however, are inexperienced with rookie Ray Emery in the net. Dominik Hasek isn't showing any signs of returning from an adductor injury, which means Emery is going to have to come up with the big stops. Emery has shown in the last couple of months that he can get the job done and the Senators are confident in his abilities. "The way they are playing, I'm not sure Ottawa's goaltending will be much of a factor in the first round because they've got guys who are going to be able to take them a long way," said the executive.
Senators coach Bryan Murray has coached 1,139 NHL regular-season games, but he's never won a Stanley Cup. The Shawville native came home because he wanted to bring a championship to the city and that's what is going to drive him. The biggest issue for Murray will be making adjustments through the playoffs -- which is something former coach Jacques Martin struggled with during his tenure behind the Senators bench. Tampa's John Tortorella is fiery and he demands a lot from his players. Many wonder if they're listening anymore. "I guess we're about to find out if Tortorella has been tuned out or not because the players in Ottawa have welcomed Murray with open arms," said the executive.
Pick to click: Ottawa in five.