OTTAWA â€” Guy Boucher still has a lot of questions to answer as the Senators prepare open the playoffs on home ice for the first time since 2007. He isn’t sure dependable defenceman Marc Methot will be ready, and he doesn’t have his forward lines written in stone.
Still, the Ottawa head coach has a pretty good idea of what kind of lineup he wants to put out against the visiting Boston Bruins.
The Atlantic Division rivals open their best-of-seven series Wednesday at the Canadian Tire Centre, and Boucher said he’s looking for a playoff-tested lineup that will make sure the Senators get out to a quick start.
“We know we haven’t had good first periods against Boston in all four (regular-season) games because we didn’t manage the boards well and we got tougher as the game went on, but I would rather start the game tough on the boards and with guys that have experience,” Boucher said at Tuesday’s practice. “Guys who have experience in the Stanley Cup and aren’t going to freeze in the first period so I’m going to make my lineup according to that.”
The Senators would like that lineup to include Methot, who practised with the team Tuesday for the first time since suffering a Sidney Crosby slash to his left pinky finger on March 23.
Boucher said Methot could play Wednesday, but a decision needs to be made whether or not it’s in his and the team’s best interest to give him a few more days rest. Game 2 of the series isn’t until Saturday afternoon.
“It’s my decision,” Boucher said. “Are we better to go with a guy that’s 100 per cent like (Fredrik) Claesson or (Ben) Harpur who have done very well or a guy that’s at 85-90 per cent? The decision is do we wait and have him at 100 per cent in three days? He could definitely play and there’s no doubt he will play in this series.”
Should he return, Methot would be paired with Erik Karlsson, who missed the last three games with a foot injury.
Crosby reached out to Methot about a week following the incident, and the Senators defenceman says he holds no ill will and is ready to return
“I’m doing everything I can to get back to full strength and feel good so I can be effective for this team,” said Methot.
Methot doesn’t anticipate wearing a different glove should he play, but expects he would require some freezing. The Ottawa native has had a number of injuries through the course of his career, but said this has been the worst as far as pain.
Karlsson, meanwhile, said he feels good and doesn’t anticipate any further issues.
With 17 forwards at his disposal Boucher was going to have to make some tough decisions. At this point it appears Chris Kelly, Ryan Dzingel, Chris Neil, Colin White and Chris DiDomenico will be the odd-men out.
For the first time this season Kyle Turris will find himself between Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan. MacArthur was also on a power play unit with Ryan, Mike Hoffman,Derick Brassard and Erik Karlsson.
MacArthur, who returned to the Senators lineup last week after missing nearly 18 months due to concussions, has made an immediate impact on Boucher in the four games he’s played.
“He’s surpassed my expectations,” Boucher said. “I can’t believe we missed this all season; he has impressed me so much. He’s probably the least tired guy on the team and could become a huge asset for us as the playoffs progress.”
It was somewhat surprising to see Zack Smith between Tommy Wingels and Tom Pyatt after having played most of the season on left wing.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau centred Hoffman and Mike Stone, while Brassard was alongside Viktor Stalberg and Alex Burrows.
“Don’t look at the lines today, that could last five minutes,” said Boucher. “I’ve got option A, B, C and D in my mind and I’m ready to switch real quick so we’ll see where we go with that.”
Boucher indicated there could still be changes to his forwards Wednesday morning.
“There’s going to be guys playing way above what you were expecting and there’s going to be guys playing below what you were expecting and that’s why it’s very dynamic,” said Boucher. “Playoffs are a real chess match from period to period and game to game and that includes your lineup. There will be guys in and out every game depending on what we need.”
The Senators may have held the edge in play in the regular season sweeping the season series 4-0, but Ottawa knows they would be foolish to think they have any advantage going into the playoffs.
The one area Ottawa should be concerned with is its penalty kill that has been the worst in the league since March 1. Of the six goals the Bruins scored against the Senators this year, five came on the power play.
“We spent a lot of time working on the PK at practice,” said Pageau, who plays a key role killing penalties. “I think we go into the playoffs feeling confident. We just need to get back to basics. It’s not a matter of being willing to sacrifice because I think everyone is willing to do that. It’s just a matter of going back to basics.”
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press