As the Ottawa Senators approach the last handful of games of 2016 and the half way mark of the regular season they sit second in the Atlantic Division and in a playoff position, only three points behind the Montreal Canadiens for first in the division. At this point in the season, a division title is not out of the question for the Senators.
While many experts had the Senators barely squeaking into the postseason, they are off to an excellent start with a 20-11-3 record. It hasn’t been all roses to start the season, the Senators have had challenges and obstacles to overcome. The team struggled offensively to start the 2016-17 campaign, their starting goaltender has had to take a personal leave from the team, the power play was among the league’s worst and they have battled through injuries and suspensions.
As of late, the Senators are earning respect around the NHL with their stellar play, winning four straight games, including a win against one of the NHL’s best in the Chicago Blackhawks.
Senators’ Special Teams
One of the items General Manager Pierre Dorion wanted to improve this season was special teams. Last year the Senators were 29th in the NHL on the penalty kill and 26th on the power play. If a team wants to make the playoffs, special teams are a key to making that a reality. Guy Boucher was given a mandate to improve special teams, and 34 games into the season, he has done just that. The Senators currently sit 17th in the league on the power play and 17th on the penalty kill.
Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman are in the top three in power play points, which is not a surprise to many who have watched the Senators play. What is a surprise is who is fourth on that list, defencemen and former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Three of the five goals Phaneuf has on the season have come on the man advantage. Head coach Guy Boucher has often used the 6’3″ 219 lbs defencemen in front of the net, a spot that may not be too bad for Phaneuf as he is able to stand his ground when getting pushed around by the opposition.
Even before the season started the Senators had to battle the injury bug. Clarke MacArthur, who had just recovered from a concussion and missed the majority of last season, suffered another concussion after getting hit by summer trade acquisition Patrick Sieloff during training camp. Guy Boucher had MacArthur slotted with Bobby Ryan and Derick Brassard in Ottawa’s top six. The emergence of youngster Ryan Dzingel has helped fill the void left by MacArthur.
Up front, the team has lost top forwards Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman either to suspension or injury, but the Senators have found ways to win. Offense is being generated by committee, with nine different forwards having at least 10 points on the season.
On the back end, Marc Methot, Chris Wideman and Mark Borowiecki have all missed time either to injury or suspension. Either through the call-ups of players from Binghamton, the defence has done a decent job at reducing the amount of shots against. Last season, the Senators lead the NHL in shots against per game at 32.8, this season it’s down to 30.8.
In goal, Craig Anderson, the Senators starting netminder has had to take a personal leave from the team to be with his wife Nicholle who is undergoing cancer treatments. Earlier in the season, general manager Pierre Dorion was proactive in acquiring a goaltender to fill this void. He dealt a fifth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft to the Penguins in exchange for Mike Condon. Ottawa’s new goaltender has done a stellar job in the Senators goal with a 8-3-2 record, a 2.20 goals against average and a 0.924 save percentage. Condon’s goals against average puts him at 20th overall among NHL netminders.
— Erik Karlsson (@ErikKarlsson65) November 28, 2016
The Senators are quickly earning respect around the NHL. While some had this team down and out before the season even started, they are showing that they can contend with the league’s best. There is plenty of reason to be optimistic if you are a Senators fan. Hold onto your hats, it will be an exciting three months to the finish of the regular season.