WRITTEN BY SENSCHIRP READER- A Train
The Battle of Ontario may seem like a strange topic to revisit right now. After all, Chris Phillips is really the only key player from the classic BoO left on either team. On the other hand, with the near-total turnover on both teams and with both the Leafs and Senators seeming to be on the upswing now may be an ideal time to look back on the classic Battle of Ontario….and consider how a potential new playoff chapter might roll out.
I’ve had many (many) opportunities to think about the 4 straight post-season losses the Sens suffered at the hands of the Leafs. The question was always: Why? How did it happen? Over a decade, a consensus has emerged. And it’s one I pretty much buy. Just to revisit:
1) Goaltending: Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour were far superior to anything the Ottawa Senators threw in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs shooters. This was acknowledged at the time, but in my memory it was never given the proper weight as a decisive factor. A decade’s worth of hindsight makes it clear just how a brutal mismatch between the pipes it really was. Many — including Tie Domi recently — have put the lopsided playoff record between the two teams almost totally down to goaltending. But that’s not the whole story.
2) Age: The Senators teams of those years were consistently young and inexperienced — and that was especially true of the “impact” players: Hossa, Havlat, Alfie, Redden, Lalime. It’s less tangible than the goaltending factor, but they always seemed so green out there lined up against the hated likes of Tucker, Corson, Belfour, Sundin, Roberts.
3) Coaching: I’ve always associated Jacques Martin’s style with the Moneyball-era A’s. In his own way, Martin played the percentages. And over the large sample size and inferior competition of the the regular season, his skilled players were able to make those sums add up. But it wasn’t a system built for best-out-of-7. Who can forget Alfie skating off for a line change when the team was down and the puck was headed to the offensive zone. High percentage play, wrong call.
So what does it all mean in 2013? Well, in goal the tandem of Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner would need to be universally acknowledged as an upgrade. You could say neither has the NHL post-season pedigree…but for the time being at least Reimer/Bernier don’t hold an edge there.
The same could be said for age. The latest numbers I have put the average age of the current Leafs and Sens rosters both at 26. On the younger side, but no clear edge.
And then there’s coaching. Every Sens fan knows what Paul MacLean’s possession-centric style has done for the team. And as we know from the experience of Detroit, it’s a system that plays well in the post season.
To sum up, I think we are primed for a new era in the Battle of Ontario (playoff edition). The potential Leaf villains are there (Kadri, Clarkson) and a new generation of Sens heroes is waiting to seize the moment (Lehner? Ryan? Pageau?).
Most importantly: However the next playoff series between the two teams plays out, if it happens in the next few years the dynamics and friction points will be different, and the Ottawa Senators look primed to write a new chapter.