Game tape is being broken down, match ups are being mapped out, and special team strategies are being formed.
On paper the series looks like a walk for the top seeded Rangers who finished 17 points ahead of the Senators with 109 points in the regular season, however; Ottawa virtually owned New York this year winning the season series 3-1 with the only black mark being a 3-2 home loss back in November.
Let’s look a little deeper:
Forwards: When comparing the two forward groups I believe that Ottawa has the edge when it comes to top end scoring talent, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Daniel Alfredsson have combined to score close to 100 goals this season.
Obviously, the real game breaker in the Ottawa Senators line up is Spezza, who with 84 points finished fourth in league scoring.
The Senators number one centre has the individual skill to take a game over all on his own, and has displayed the artistry with the puck that may be necessary for Ottawa to crack the Ranger’s egg.
The scoring for Ottawa drops off significantly after the top three forwards, but the likes of Colin Greening, Kyle Turris, Zack Smith and Chris Neil have done an admirable job providing secondary scoring up front for the Senators this season, combining for 56 goals this year.
Neil is the X-factor among this group, and if he can have a good series he will bring the disruptive force the Senators will need to throw off the Rangers attack.
Make no mistake, Chris Neil is going to bring it, night in, and night out.
The Rangers have a deep group of forwards highlighted by the deft scoring touch of Marian Gaborik who found the back of the net 41 times this season.
New York will also rely heavily on the playoff experience of former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards who is by far the most gifted play maker on the team, but the straw that stirs the drink for the Rangers is their captain, Ryan Callahan.
Callahan’s strong two-way play this season has endeared him to his teammates, he is a tenacious forechecker who will likely become very well acquainted with the Senators defence during the series.
I have to give a slight edge in the forward position to the Rangers based on their depth, although I believe that Ottawa has better top end talent.
Defense: Each team has their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their respective defensive corps.
The Rangers defense seems to have the edge when it comes to playing actual defense. As a group the New York D is +70 while scoring a respectable 30 goals and 150 total points.
Staal spent almost half of the season on the shelf with a concussion he sustained after being laid out by big brother Eric Staal last February.
The Ottawa defence boasts one of the most offensively gifted rearguards to hit the NHL this generation in Erik Karlsson. The young Swede had a fantastic season becoming the first defender since Paul Coffey to finish in the top ten in league scoring, piling up 78 points this season.
Karlsson is very slight by NHL standards though, listed at 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, but anyone who has seen him up close, or on television know that those statistics may be with his gear on.
Karlsson and the Senators coaching staff will need to devise a plan for him to avoid the tenacious Rangers forecheck who will target number 65 relentlessly.
As a group the Senators defense is +47, but that is due largely to the fact that they are far more active in the Ottawa offense putting up a massive 206 points while scoring 44 goals.
Even if you take Karlsson’s gaudy statistics out of the equation the Senators defence still scored 25 goals and 128 points.
The Senators also have the edge when it comes to experience with the likes of Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips both having 100 games playoff experience or better. Throw in the veteran presence of Filip Kuba as well and the Senators have a nice mix of youth and experience.
All things considered the Rangers defense plays better in their end, but the Senators D also plays better in the Rangers end.
I’m going to give the edge to Ottawa based on their experience, and Karlsson’s game breaking ability.
Goaltending: Henrik Lunqvist has had a banner year finishing the season with a stellar 39-18-5 won/loss record, 1.97 goals against average, a .930 save percentage, and is a good bet to be in the running for the Vezina Trophy when all is said and done in June.
Craig Anderson was not quite as good statistically posting a 33-22-6 won/loss record, 2.84 goals against, and a .914 goals against average, but Anderson has proved throughout the season that he is capable of stealing games all by himself, and he will need to be able to do that in this series if the Senators are hoping to upset the Rangers and advance to round two in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Saying all that, the Rangers still have the edge when it comes to goaltending.
Lunqvist is a veteran of 35 playoff games while Anderson, much like the majority of his teammates, has very limited playoff experience with a 2-4 record in playoff games earned back in 2010 when he backstopped the young Colorado Avalanche in a series against the Detroit Red Wings.
In the end I see this series going deep, and the Senators surprising many in NHL circles with their ability to compete with the upper echelon of the league’s elite teams, but I don’t know if they have enough to pull off the upset.
Despite all that, I’m sticking with my guys and picking Ottawa to take this series in seven hard fought games.