The Ottawa Senators failed to pick up a win during the five-game stretch between their bye week and the All-Star break, pushing them even closer to the last place in the Eastern Conference. Just past the midway point of the season, the Senators have played themselves out of playoff contention and the tension between players and the coaching staff is evident.
After the team’s 3-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues last week, Sens captain Erik Karlsson talked about how the team needs to just start playing hockey again and not worry too much about “being right or being wrong.”
“We have a lot of younger guys coming in here, you know, they’re good skilled players, we gotta let them play and do their thing and feel good about themselves,” Karlsson said. “We’ve all been in their position, and you’re allowed to make a mistake sometimes as long as you know you’re trying to do the right thing. It’s not always going to work out.”
Since a big part of Guy Boucher’s coaching philosophy is to lean on veterans, Karlsson’s comments could be seen as a shot at his coach. Boucher talked about giving young players a role in the lineup which would help the team in the long run and he followed up the statement by playing rookie forward Colin White on the second line.
The decision showed some willingness for Boucher to adapt because of the team’s dire situation: giving rookies meaningful ice time this year will help them develop into regulars next year. Despite this, any discord between the Senators’ best players and Boucher is a bad sign for the coach.
Is a Coaching Change Inevitable?
When Boucher was hired two years ago, he showered praise on Karlsson, and the two seemed to have a good relationship that translated into wins. However, it’s a lot easier to accept Boucher’s playing style when the team is getting results. Now, the Senators are losing without showing any signs of improvement. After starting the month off strong, the Sens have struggled to generate offence, only scoring seven goals in their last five games.
Much has been made about the similarities between Boucher’s tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning and his career with the Senators, but in Boucher’s second year in Tampa, his team was above average offensively. This was partly due to Steven Stamkos’ incredible 60-goal season in 2011-12, so Boucher should not be mistaken for an offensively oriented coach.
Though Boucher’s Lightning team had a much easier time finding the back of the net than these Senators, there are some noteworthy comparisons. In his first year with the Bolts and with the Sens, Boucher led his team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. The Lightning missed the playoffs the following season and Boucher was fired in his third year with the team.
While Sens GM Pierre Dorion and Boucher are usually on the same page, Dorion might have to make a coaching change and a few trades for the sake of his own job security. Considering how the team has failed to meet expectations this year, the fallout could be massive.
A Much-Needed All-Star Break
With all the negativity and uncertainty surrounding the team, the All-Star Break came at a pretty good time for the Senators. One Senator, in particular, probably benefited from the break even more by going to Tampa Bay for a fun weekend of hockey. Much like he did during the NHL 100 Classic, Erik Karlsson managed to take some of the attention away from coaching issues and the trade speculation that has haunted him throughout the season by putting on a show during All-Star weekend.
The way things have been going for Karlsson over the last few weeks, most Senators fans would probably have preferred he had stayed at home during the festivities. However, Karlsson went to Tampa Bay as the team’s lone representative, and while the Sens captain could’ve used the rest, he took up a large share of the spotlight over the weekend.
From his pirate costume on Saturday night to his clear disdain for the puck control relay, Karlsson’s star power made him stand out among the NHL’s biggest names. The Senators can only hope that his positivity displayed over the weekend translates into some positive energy in the Senators locker room, points for the captain and a better finish to the season.