Ottawa Senators fans woke up in unfamiliar territory this morning – last place in the NHL standings. With the Edmonton Oilers 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday evening, the Senators and their 53 points are officially in the hunt for the first overall selection in this June’s draft. It is somewhat ironic that one of the top prospects, Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers, is in town to face the Ottawa 67’s on Sunday afternoon. A large contingent of Ottawa fans and Senators scouts are expected at the game to take a closer look at the young man from Stockholm, Sweden.
While the Sens have hit the bottom in the NHL standings, there are signs of life on this revamped, younger roster. Bobby Butler looks right at home in an Ottawa uniform with 6 goals and three assists in 12 games (his third stint with the team since being recalled from Binghamton in early February), and players like Zack Smith, Erik Condra and Colin Greening have adjusted to life in the NHL as well. The mood in the dressing room has become a little lighter with the enthusiasm and energy that the young prospects from Binghamton have brought with them to the NHL. Ryan Shannon’s recent switch to centre and the point on the power play has rejuvenated his play, putting him on pace to surpass his career-best 20 points, set during the 2008-2009 season. For a team just starting to “rebuild” the roster, they already have some prospects in place that will help speed up the process.
Of course, the biggest catalyst for change in the atmosphere around the team has to be goaltender Craig Anderson. It is amazing what a timely save or two can do for a team’s overall mood; one cannot help but wonder where the Sens would have been in the standings had those timely saves arrived earlier in the season.
In what may become one of Bryan Murray’s best moves as GM in Ottawa, he acquired Anderson from Colorado in exchange for Brian Elliott. A restricted free agent this summer, the Senators did not plan to have Elliott return for next season.
In his first six starts with the Senators, Anderson posted a 4-2 record with a 1.16 GAA and a .966 save percentage. On the season, he is 17-18-3 with 1 shutout, a 2.95 GAA and a .907% in 40 games (38 starts).
Even though Anderson and the Sens came back down to earth slightly in a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Friday evening, it appears the decision to trade for Anderson to take a closer look at the unrestricted free agent is paying off. Head coach Cory Clouston and Murray will have the opportunity to see how Anderson handles a little adversity – how does he rebound after a loss and an uncharacteristic bad goal (during his time with the Sens) that he allowed to Vinny Prospal in the first period of the loss to the Rangers.
If Anderson continues to work hard and communicate with his defenseman, as he has done effectively through his first seven starts, the 29-year old Park Ridge, Illinois native can expect contract talks to begin in the next few weeks.
“It’s one of the first times I’ll be playing in a city that lives and dies through their hockey team. It’s a great feeling knowing that the fans are behind you,” Anderson said when he first arrived in Ottawa (Senators.com).
Anderson’s play has brought hope to a disappointed fan base but it is unlikely he will single-handedly move the Sens out of a top-five draft pick position. After trading away Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Alex Kovalev and Jarkko Ruutu, long-term injuries to team captain Daniel Alfredsson (back), Peter Regin (shoulder) and Milan Michalek (foot) will test the young roster in front of him. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Senators will spend the rest of this season at or near the bottom of the standings.
The team is ready to play the role of spoiler as the schedule winds down, but it will be a difficult road ahead for the Senators. Of their remaining 17 games, 13 are against teams currently in the playoffs or playing desperate hockey to make the playoffs. If you count the New Jersey Devils as a possible playoff team, that number rises to 15.
The next opponent for the Senators are the red-hot New Jersey Devils on Tuesday evening. After their own slow start, New Jersey is 19-2-2 in their last 23 games heading into today’s match-up with the New York Islanders.
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.