It hardly seems fair to label the Ottawa Senators as a team that’s out of gas following their 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Sunday night. After all they did outshoot the Panthers 41-17 in a dominating performance from start to finish. They were simply bettered by the incredible performance of Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen and those games happen. However following their 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, the Sens appear to be in some trouble. Looking at the bigger picture that loss marked the fifth consecutive game without points for the Sens and that doesn’t happen often with this group. This current five game pointless drought is the team’s longest of the season and with so much still up for grabs it is certainly something they will have to remedy and quickly.
Ottawa is in the midst of a seven game road swing that has and will see them face division rival Boston twice as well as three teams still very much in playoff contention in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Buffalo. The Senators have been the kings of the one-goal game this season and have been outstanding in them, giving themselves an opportunity to earn points nearly every time out. With that being said and for all their success this season the Sens currently sit 6th in the Eastern Conference with 44 points and still squarely in the race for the postseason. Were this the middle of a long season it would be easier to suggest that the Senators are beginning to hit the wall and will likely fall out of the race, but with the finish line so close it’s hard to imagine this team folding now. There is still much to get done however and the Sens, like many teams, will need their players to step up down the stretch. The good news is there are re-enforcements coming for Ottawa and knowing that, GM Bryan Murray made a significant move on April 3rd trading goaltender Ben Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for rookie scorer Cory Conacher.
In addition to adding Conacher, the Sens have the services of Craig Anderson available to them once again. Anderson, the Sens number one goaltender, has been out since late February with an ankle injury and will be a welcome addition back into the fold, not only for his skill but also the calming demeanor and leadership he brings. Prior to the injury Anderson was playing the best hockey of his career and was a certain Vezina Trophy award candidate as the National Hockey League’s top goaltender. The goaltending in his absence was stellar as both backup Ben Bishop and future number one Robin Lehner shined, but it’s clear this team is at its best with Anderson in the net. It was Lehner’s great play however that made General Manager Bryan Murray’s job a little easier. Lehner, having shown himself to be consistently strong at the NHL level, allowed the Sens and Murray to move Ben Bishop to Tampa Bay at the trade deadline in exchange for added offense in Cory Conacher. Anderson is Ottawa’s number one goaltender for the foreseeable future but Lehner has proven to the team and himself that he can more than fill the role should the Ottawa Senators need him down the stretch.
With Ottawa missing two top-six forwards including their All-Star number one center as well as the best offensive defenceman in the league, generating offense has been a major challenge for them this season. Head Coach Paul MacLean and his group have done a masterful job at committing to playing a tight defensive style and winning that close grind it out type of game, but neither MacLean nor any player would be opposed to scoring more goals. The Sens are hoping that the addition of Conacher, who was among the rookie scoring leaders in the NHL when he was acquired, will bring a much needed offensive boost. Granted Conacher will not be playing with the same elite level scorers in Ottawa such as Stamkos and St. Louis, especially with Spezza and Karlsson out, but they believe he can come in and contribute and be yet another “young gun” playing a huge role. The team is also hoping to get last season’s leading scorer, Milan Michalek, back in the lineup within the next week or so. He has been practicing the last few days after missing much of the season with knee issues and while there is no set date for his return the reports are promising. Ottawa’s “young guns” have been playing great and that must continue but with the Sens ranking 25th in the NHL offensively, averaging 2.37 goals per game, they are flat out depending on added offense from their newest addition and their veteran scorer.
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) April 3, 2013
All in all what the Ottawa Senators have done this year has been outstanding, defying many, including myself who believed they had to re-evaluate their plans following the injuries. Some have already described this campaign as a successful one considering the way their young players have developed with the added responsibility and opportunity. However, as has been the case all season, the Sens remain focused on the next game and the expectations of the team and the organization. They are content to leave the success story talk to others. This group still has a lot of work to do and for the men in the room, the season can only be considered as a success if they meet expectations, which after last season in the Nations’ Capital is nothing short of the postseason.