Last night the Ottawa Senators improved their record to 32-24-11 and moved passed the Panthers into 9th place in the Eastern Conference, five points back of the Bruins with 15 games to play. (Seven now, as the Bruins won Saturday).
The Senators are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games.
That is a remarkable run for a team that no one thought stood any chance of making the Playoffs this year.
In last night’s game the Senators took a 2-0 lead and then held on because of Andrew Hammond’s 35 save performance. Hammond is a goalie who has started his career in the NHL with a 9-0-1 record and almost single-handedly brought the Senators to the Playoffs in one of the more remarkable stories in the NHL in sometime.
If you haven’t already heard the growing legend of Hammond, he’s an undrafted 27 year old rookie who only played one game, in relief, in the NHL, prior to this year. This season, he had a losing record and a massive GAA for Ottawa’s AHL team when he was called up to the NHL due to an injury to normal Senators goalie Craig Anderson. After that, it has just been an amazing, unpredictable, totally surprising run of glory.
Also, he’s called The Hamburglar, pretty much the coolest nickname ever, in a sport known for its super-lame nicknames like Johnny Hockey and Captain Serious. (Although, to be honest, virtually any nickname could top those embarrassing ones).
Good Chance to Actually Make It
So, as long as the Senators don’t do something monumentally stupid – like giving Anderson his job back – they should make the Playoffs.
The reason I like their chances is because there are two teams they can catch and not just one. The Bruins sit five points ahead of Ottawa entering today’s action. The Bruins are experienced, but vulnerable. They don’t have Krejci back and they aren’t the team they once were. Chara is in decline and Lucic isn’t the player this year that he was previously. Both teams have the same number of games left, and if Hammond keeps it up, he neutralizes the main advantage the Bruins had over Ottawa in the first place: Goaltending.
Then there is the Capitals. Once again showing the NHL the importance of having a first pairing that can dominate possession, the Capitals have two of the top four scorers in the NHL an one of the best performing goalies in Holtby, and yet they still have a good chance of missing the Playoffs.
At the start of play today, they sit seven points up on Ottawa, but they also have two games in hand. If the Senators can win those two games, it’s just a three point deficit, and I’ll take the team with the best defenseman in hockey over the one with two star forwards in that race every time.
That’s right, Erik Karlsson is perhaps the best defenseman in the NHL and I haven’t even mentioned him yet. Karlsson leads the NHL in scoring by a defenseman with 54 points in 67 games – numbers comparable to number-one centres like Thornton, Sedin and Johansen. He’s only 10 points out of being in the top ten overall, somewhere he could easily be if Ottawa had a more potent offense without him.
The most Karlsson has gone without a point this season is three games, and again, if they had an elite scoring option among their forwards, he’d probably be competing for the NHL scoring title. He is a defenseman and that is crazy.
He also has a 53% CF rating, one of the tops among defenseman, but made more impressive because, generally, the Senators are not a great possession team. While Karlsson is on the ice they are one of the league’s best teams, and when he’s on the bench……not so much. Few players make the impact he does, and at this point the only people criticizing his supposed “one-dimensional” game are just ignorant.
When you put Karlsson and Hammond together and you look at the vulnerability of both teams that they can considerably catch, I feel pretty good about saying that the Senators’ Playoff chances are really, really good.
Not only that, but you`d have to be a heartless monster to not be cheering for them!!!
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.