The Sens Are No Fluke. This Looks Real.

The Senators are poised to not only finish in the top three in the Atlantic division, but potentially go on a deep playoff run.

The Ottawa senators were pegged by many fans and experts alike to finish outside of the playoff picture at the end of the 2016-17 regular season. Sites like Bleacher Report, The Hockey News, and even the NHL panel of experts, all had the Senators ranked considerably lower in the standings than where they are now, with most predicting the team would miss the playoffs entirely. This isn’t even a complete knock on the experts, as many fans had Ottawa in a dog-fight for the second wild card spot, if the team made the playoffs at all. The weak performance of fellow Atlantic division rivals certainly opened a window that the Senators need to take full advantage of.

So what changed? For one, the team’s roster was severely underrated by many going into the season. The early loss of Clarke MacArthur before the season began dealt a huge blow to the Senators top six, a unit that had recently seen departed centre, Mika Zibanejad, replaced by newcomer, Derick Brassard, during the offseason. Here’s a comparison of the Senators’ opening night roster on October 12th compared to their roster for their most recent game on March 4th:

October 12, 2016

Mike Hoffman – Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Zack Smith – Derick Brassard – Bobby Ryan
Phil Varone – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Tom Pyatt
Ryan Dzingel – Chris Kelly – Chris Neil

Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Wideman

Craig Anderson – Andrew Hammond

March 4, 2017

Alex Burrows – Kyle Turris – Mike Hoffman
Zack Smith – Derick Brassard – Mark Stone
Ryan Dzingel – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Tom Pyatt
Viktor Stalberg – Chris Kelly – Tommy Wingels

Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Wideman

Craig Anderson – Mike Condon

The bottom six is a stark improvement compared to what it was to begin the season. Don’t forget the Senators still have Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur on the roster as well, although the latter has been shut down for the entirety of this season and his future playing status remains up in the air. If there is one area that remained more or less intact, it was the defense. With the exception of occasionally rotating in Freddy Claesson, there have been no new additions to the defense, much to the dismay of fans. While it’s certainly not near the top of the league, it has proven to be more serviceable under Boucher than his predecessors. Phaneuf, Ceci, and Borowiecki all have their areas that they struggle with, but overall, it has been enough to keep the team in games. The emergence of Chris Wideman as a legitimate top-four defenseman has been exciting to watch as well, although many fans worry about his protection status in the Vegas expansion draft, rightfully so.

While it hasn’t been a particularly stellar season by any individual Senators player in terms of point totals, including Erik Karlsson, this group has found a way under Guy Boucher’s system to play cohesively as a unit. Players like Tom Pyatt and Ryan Dzingel have played a valuable role in the team’s success and seem to have earned the trust of Guy Boucher. The Senators brought in Mike “No Fluke” Condon after Craig Anderson took a personal leave from the team, and Condon has found success in Ottawa as a serviceable backup, pushing Hammond out of his spot on the roster.

The Senators’ deadline acquisitions of Burrows and Stalberg have paid dividends for the team thus far. They have combined for 3 goals in 2 games and have found chemistry with their line-mates right away. Chris DiDomineco, the team’s depth Swiss League signing, has yet to play a game for the Senators, but will likely slot into the line-up soon. While many (including myself) have griped about Bobby Ryan’s lack of goal scoring this season, upon doing some video review, his deployment is considerably different this year under Guy Boucher. Bobby Ryan is riding close to his career high in terms of shooting percentage, but has taken drastically less shots this year. Boucher seems to favour using Bobby Ryan as a screen in front of the net, rather than as a strict sniper, and in fact, he’s alluded to trying to fill this role while Ryan is out with injury. He may not show up on the scoresheet as often as we’d like (especially considering his 7.5 million dollar salary), but his role on this team is undervalued by many. Boucher has also mentioned the Senators’ “team first” mentality in many interviews. The Senators players are playing un-selfish hockey at all times on the ice, sacrificing individual pursuits in favour of sticking to overall team systems. This was something that was critically missing from previous coaching regimes, notably Paul MacLean and Dave Cameron. One area that still needs improvement is the power-play, an area that the team struggles mightily with, night in and night out. It’s certainly not for lack of skill deployment. One factor may be the predictability of passing plays, which other teams seem to have caught onto by now. It’s only one area of the Senators’ overall game, but it’s one that may make a different in the playoffs if not addressed properly.

Coming off of the team’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Senators have compiled a 13-5-2 record against the NHL’s big-bad Metropolitan division. While they have inexplicably struggled mightily against lower ranked teams, like the Buffalo Sabres for instance, they have found success against the league’s top-tiered teams all season long. Sustaining this success throughout the rest of the regular season is key if the Senators want to go on a deep playoff run this spring. If Drew was due last season, maybe the Senators are owed some accolades this year?

Perhaps the biggest acquisition has yet to been made for the Senators, as draft pick and current college player, Colin White, may make his Senators debut very soon as his college season is wrapping up. Inserting White into the line-up in place of Chris Kelly  or Chris Neil improves the fourth line, and gives the Senators four solid lines to roll in the playoffs, as well as spare bodies should injuries occur. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic as a Senators fan this spring, and with the right amount of luck down the final stretch, we’ll be crowding patios on Sens Mile downtown, cheering in overtime in the ByWard Market, and of course filling the seats inside the Canadian Tire Centre to watch our team go deep in the playoffs soon enough.

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