HabsWorld.net -- 

It’s time to start looking ahead to the postseason (something I think many of
us didn’t expect to be talking about three months ago).  With the Habs’
recent struggles and the parity throughout the Eastern Conference, there are
quite a few potential first round matchups for the Canadiens.  Here is a
look at the goaltending and defensive depth for those squads as the first part
of our playoff primer.

According to

Sports Club Stats
, there are four first round matchups with a percentage
chance of occurring greater than 10% as of games played through April 18th. 
Those teams will be the focus of this article.


NY Islanders: 1) Evgeni Nabokov, 2) Kevin Poulin, 3) Rick DiPietro

Analysis: Nabokov has quietly put up a statline that is nearly
identical to that of Carey Price while beating the Habs in both head-to-head
matchups this year.  In fact, Nabokov hasn’t lost a game in regulation in
April.  As a result, Poulin has seen very limited action, something that
will continue in the postseason.

NY Rangers: 1) Henrik Lundqvist, 2) Martin Biron, 3) Cameron Talbot

Analysis: Despite the Rangers’ struggles in general this year,
Lundqvist is putting up numbers that rival his career bests in both goals
against average and save percentage.  He historically has struggled against
Montreal to the point where Biron has faced them more recently.  In the
postseason though, there’s no doubt that ‘King Henrik’ will be the go-to goalie
and he has the capability to steal a series on his own.

Ottawa: 1) Craig Anderson, 2) Robin Lehner, 3) Nathan Lawson

Analysis: The Sens lead the East in fewest goals allowed per game in
large part due to above average goaltending from the top two plus the
recently-dealt Ben Bishop.  Anderson picked up right where he left off
after returning from injury while Lehner showed he is capable of taking the
starting reigns; there isn’t much of a drop off between the two.  One
possible concern for the Sens is that the two goalies are both relatively
inexperienced in NHL postseason play.

Toronto: 1) James Reimer, 2) Ben Scrivens, 3) Drew MacIntyre

Analysis: For all of the flak Reimer has received, he has had a strong
season and put an end to the on again-off again question about whether he’d be
the starter on the Leafs.  He also has historically played well against the
Canadiens with stats against them that are well beyond his career averages. 
Scrivens has been hot-and-cold this year but also has been able to carry the
load when he’s on.  Like Ottawa, experience is a concern as no goalie in
the organization has played in an NHL postseason contest.

Goalie Rankings: 1) Ottawa, 2) NY Rangers, 3) Toronto, 4) NY Islanders


(Pairings are from the most recent game played, they are sorted based on
the most frequently used even strength duos.


NY Islanders:


Visnovsky – Thomas Hickey
Travis Hamonic – Andrew MacDonald
Mark Streit – Matt Carkner
Joe Finley
Radek Martinek (healthy)
Brian Strait (injured)

Analysis: Although Montreal leads the league in offence from the
blueline, this group of defencemen is capable of making their mark on the
scoresheet as well.  Hamonic is one of the more underrated d-men in the
East; he and MacDonald form a quality but unheralded shutdown pairing. 
Aside from the offensive potential though, this is not the strongest group to be
using in the postseason.

NY Rangers:


Michael Del
Zotto – Anton Stralman
Dan Girardi – Ryan McDonagh
John Moore – Steve Eminger
Matt Gilroy
Roman Hamrlik (healthy)
Marc Staal (injured)

Analysis: Although this defence corps hasn’t blocked as many shots as
last season, they still sit among the best in the league in that category. 
They also have a good mix of offensive and defensive blueliners and do well to
put one of each on each pairing.  When Staal returns, they’ll be even
better.  He is probably the ‘biggest name’ of the group but this is a
steady, unheralded bunch.



Jared Cowen –
Eric Gryba
Mark Methot – Chris Phillips
Patrick Wiercioch – Sergei Gonchar
Andre Benoit
Erik Karlsson (injured)
Mike Lundin (healthy)

Analysis: Cowen’s recent return provided a two way presence that the
team has lacked for the better part of the season.  Methot and Phillips are
a quality shutdown pairing while Gonchar and Karlsson (who, despite reports that
he was out for the year, is now expected to return to the lineup in the days
ahead) give them a formidable offensive duo.  Two weeks ago the blueline
was a big concern for the Sens but come playoff time, it should be a strength.




Cody Franson – Mark Fraser
Dion Phaneuf – Jake Gardiner
John-Michael Liles – Ryan O’Byrne

Carl Gunnarsson (injured)
Mike Kostka (healthy)
Korbinian Holzer (AHL)

Analysis: In terms of size and physical ability, this is a unit that
will wear out opposition forwards over a series.  With one puck-moving
player on each pairing, it helps to neutralize some of the skating concerns from
the slower players but this is still an area of concern.  The Leafs block a
ton of opposition shots (the most in the league), a skill that particularly has
an impact in the postseason.

Defence Rankings: 1) Ottawa (with Karlsson healthy), 2)
Toronto, 3) NY Rangers, 4) NY Islanders

Next week, the forwards will be looked at in more detail.