Kyle Turris should score 82 goals this season while Mark Stone will post a 120 point as a sophomore. In doing so they will lead the Ottawa Senators to a 61 win, 122 point season and the team’s second ever President’s Trophy. Or at least that is what will happen if you extrapolate Ottawa’s results from the first four games of the 2015-16 season to the entire year.
Now, fans obviously don’t expect the Senators to challenge for first place in the Eastern Conference, much less the NHL, but Ottawa’s hot start has raised expectations that the Senators can recapture some of the magic of their miracle run last spring. However, despite winning three of their first four games and scoring a league high 15 goals, these good results mask serious problems for the Ottawa Senators going forward. Problems which, if not addressed, could well result in Ottawa falling out of playoff contention sooner rather than later.
You Need To Have The Puck To Score
It seems like a basic truth, if you don’t have the puck, you can’t score (most of the time). Ottawa so far this season is doing their best to prove that basic idea wrong though. So far this season the Senators are tied for the league lead in goals with 15. However, they also second last in the league in terms of puck possession, with only a 42.65 SAT% over their first four games. Roughly, that means that Ottawa’s opponents have the puck for 60% of the game. Furthermore, only one Senator, Clarke MacArthur, has posted positive numbers over the first four games of the season. This stat alone should concern Dave Cameron and his coaching staff, as possession is strongly correlated with success. While teams can overcome bad possession numbers for a while – sometimes even an entire season – in general, no stat has proven more effective at predicting success over the long run.
Even in Ottawa’s case, possession numbers help to explain their seemingly miraculous turn around starting in February of last season. Under Paul MacLean the Senators struggles to keep the puck and were a negative possession team, out of playoff contention. However, under Head Coach Dave Cameron the team’s SAT% improved substantially, to the point that Ottawa finished the season with a 50.25 SAT%. What is particularly important to note is that Ottawa’s SAT% improved before they started winning 80% of their games. While their improvement in keeping the puck certainly didn’t predict a nearly undefeated final quarter of the season, it did indicate that Ottawa’s fortunes should improve. Similarly, Ottawa’s terrible possession numbers indicate that if they don’t turn things around soon, the losses will start to pile up.
Shooting Percentage Matters
Ottawa has been able to overcome not having the puck for 60% of the game by being incredibly efficient when they do. The top line of Mike Hoffman, Marc Stone and Kyle Turris has been scoring on a tremendously high percentage of their shots. All three of them have a five on five shooting percentages of around 20%, well above the career averages of all three. The top line is currently scoring because they are finishing exceptionally well, not because they are generating more shots, indicating their offensive explosion won’t continue all season. As an example of how Ottawa’s scorers have had tremendous luck see Mike Hoffman’s goal against Columbus:
Hoffman admittedly has a great shot. However, he is lucky in that he is facing a goalie with no confidence and he manages to put the puck right in under the bar. Another day and that puck hits the crossbar and goes into the crowd. Its part skill for sure, but luck is also important. We can demonstrate Hoffman and company’s good fortune statistically through SPSv% (formerly PDO). This statistic is simply a team’s shooting percentage and its save percentage added together. Because each shot results in a goal or a save, and the total SPSv% of the entire league is always going to be 100, 100 is the medium. Teams below that mark will improve, teams above that mark are probably going to regress. Ottawa currently sits at 104.5. That number means the team is relying on a high shooting percentage and good goaltending to win. If either of those regress, which they most likely will, Ottawa is going to face a whole host of problems.
As Ottawa’s SPSv% shows, they have benefited from strong shooting and hot goalies. Even though he lost his first NHL start, Matt O’Connor made 31 saves against a high-flying Montreal Canadians team who has yet to lose this season. Craig Anderson has also played very well in his three starts, posting a 927 Sv% while facing the third most shots of any goalie so far this season, despite starting one less game than many other goalies.
What is concerning for Ottawa fans is that Anderson’s career Sv% is 915; A full 12 points less than his current number. In fact, other than during the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, Anderson has never posted a Sv% higher than 924. All of this suggests that Anderson will start to let in more goals. While even one extra goal per game wouldn’t have made a difference against Columbus, it would have meant a loss to the Maple Leafs and OT against the Sabers and a very different record for the Senators.
Clutch scoring and good goaltending are obviously important for any team. As multiple Stanley Cup champions have shown, put both of them together and you can win a championship. However, the NHL season is much more of a marathon than a sprint and teams tend to revert to the mean. While there are always surprises every year, think Calgary last year defying all advanced stats predictions and making it to the second round of the playoffs, more often than not hot shooters cool down and goalies start making a few more mistakes every game. If and when that happens, without serious adjustments from the coaching staff, the Ottawa Senators’ and their fans are in for a nasty surprise.
I am a Canadian historian studying at UBC and currently living in Ottawa ON. who grew up watching and playing hockey. I write about the Ottawa Senators, past and present, for The Hockey Writers. I think fancy stats are great. Also a huge soccer and Rugby fan.