The Montreal Canadiens snagged the #2 seed in the East on the last day of the season. Thursday night they will take on the #7 seed, Ottawa Senators. To give us a hand from the Habs point of view, Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) of HabsEyesOnThePrize.com took a few shifts with us. Make sure to follow the them on Twitter @HabsEOTP.
1. It was looking like we were headed towards a Canadiens/Leafs series in round 1 until the Bruins “helped” you out. Are you disappointed that match-up didn’t happen or more happy with the Northeast Division title?
On the one hand it’s disappointing because we were just beginning to get excited for Habs vs Leafs, but on the other hand I’m much happier with the Canadiens taking the higher seed. Over the long haul, it’s better for the team. The Senators aren’t as exciting of an opponent on paper, but Karlsson vs Subban is a great storyline.
2. It seems like the Senators are the next best opponent for the Habs to play from a buzz standpoint. How do the Habs match-up against the Sens?
I don’t know if the Sens are that great for buzz. I guess because they play in the same division people might get excited, but I don’t think Habs fans see the Senators as rivals. As for how they match up, it’s tough to know without a clear indication of what’s going on with Jason Spezza. As the rosters stand, it seems to me that the Canadiens have more depth at forward and at defense, but the Senators play a much tighter defensive game which leads to their goaltenders putting up gaudy numbers.
3. There are 4 Canadian teams in the playoffs this year. How important is that for the NHL?
It may be more important than ever for this year. The real important thing though, is that the 3 big Canadian markets all made it in. Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver being in the playoffs is absolutely massive for a league that lost nearly half a season’s worth of revenues.
4. With all the nonsense that went on last year with the new coach not speaking French, then the PK Subban contract holdout, how surprised were you that the Habs had such a big turnaround this season?
Not surprised at all. Off ice controversies driven by fans and media are always overblown as far as the effect they have on the team. The Canadiens were never as bad last year as their record looked. In fact, we predicted a huge turnaround several times last season at Eyes on the Prize. Did we think they’d win their division? No, I doubt anyone honestly predicted that, but this team has been good since the 2010-11 season.
5. We all know the Habs can score. They had 8 players with 10 or more goals, but none with more than 15. Is there one player they will rely on in crunch time to score the big goal?
Depth has been the name of the game for the Habs this season, but Max Pacioretty could easily have scored more than 15 if he had a bit of puck luck. He’s one of the most underrated snipers in the NHL, he finished 7th in shots in the entire NHL in spite of missing 4 games, but converted only 9.2%. If he finished at the same rate as last season, he would have pushed 20 goals in just 44 games.
6. Defenseman Raphael Diaz returned recently from a 2 month absence due to a concussion. How big is his return to the blue line?
Diaz’s return is huge. His offense creates a second wave powerplay that’s much more dangerous than what the Canadiens had for most of the year, and his puck moving from the back end allows the Habs to load up a top pairing of P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, which is about as good as any defense pairing in the NHL.
7. Will the Habs be able to solve Craig Anderson?
I think so. Anderson had a brilliant season, but it’s important to note that he only played half the games. I don’t think his true talent level is anywhere close to his numbers from this year. With that said, he’s put up a .933 save percentage in the playoffs in both his appearances. However Ottawa goaltenders put up a combined .948 save percentage against the Canadiens this season, and still lost two games. Will they be able to replicate that kind of performance? I find it unlikely.
8. Series Prediction?
I think the Canadiens’ scoring depth is just too much for the Senators, so Habs in 6.