The Ottawa Senators have come out of the All-Star Break on fire, with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games. Tim Stützle was named the NHL’s first star of the week for his play, and the team has rallied around those performances to close the gap in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
With the unfortunate news of Mathew Barzal being sidelined indefinitely for the New York Islanders, the door has opened for the Senators to make a push for the playoffs. Their schedule over the next two weeks is favourable, and their season depends on whether or not they can take advantage of it.
Over their next 10 games, seven come against teams that are currently outside the playoff picture, including teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and Chicago Blackhawks. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, and Seattle Kraken make up the other three opponents spanning from now until March 12.
Within that stretch, there is a back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings on Feb 27 and 28. The Red Wings currently hold a record of 26-21-8 and find themselves in the mix for the wild-card race as well. These could prove to be two of the biggest games of the 2022-23 season for the Senators, as a four-point swing in the standings at this point would be extremely beneficial.
After March 12 the schedule becomes much tougher. Seven of their next eight games after that point come against teams currently in the playoffs, with games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers looking to be the most crucial. The Senators will have to stack up against the better competition soon enough, but they have to beat the teams that they should over the next two weeks.
Senators Are Getting Healthy At the Right Time
With Jake Sanderson and Cam Talbot both projected to return to the lineup against the Hurricanes, this is the healthiest the Senators have been all season. If there was ever a time to get hot and go on a roll, the stars are aligning.
Sanderson has been extremely impressive in his rookie season with 21 points in 51 games. Natural Stat Trick’s tracking has him above the 50 percent mark in Corsi percentage, expected goals percentage, and high-danger chance percentage. He will provide a huge boost to the top four over this favourable stretch of games.
As for Talbot, he has had an up-and-down season posting a 12-13-1 record. His .905 save percentage leaves a lot to be desired, but he has a chance to lead this team to the playoffs once he gets healthy. Conversely, there has been plenty of chatter around Talbot’s name when it comes to a potential trade at the deadline.
Related: 3 Senators Most Likely to Be Moved at the Trade Deadline
If the Senators get an offer they cannot refuse, they may look to move him and have Mads Sogaard be the team’s starter for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. If Talbot remains on the roster past March 3, he will be crucial to their playoff hopes.
The Sens Best Players Need to Continue Being Their Best Players
Along with Stutzle’s dominance, Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux have stepped up recently, which has led to positive results. In roughly 290 even-strength minutes together, Money Puck has the Senators’ top line accounting for 60.4 percent of the expected goals. Out of forward lines that have played at least 250 minutes together, that line is posting the seventh-best percentage across the NHL.
If the Senators are to make a playoff run, their young stars will have to carry the load offensively, with players like Sanderson carrying the load defensively. Thomas Chabot has struggled of late with untimely turnovers and defensive mishaps, and that will need to change over the coming weeks before the schedule gets tough.
If the franchise can build confidence as a group over the favourable stretch of games, they will be riding a high going into the tougher portion of their schedule and could surprise a few contending teams across the league with their play. Focusing on what is ahead of them is more important, as a losing streak of sorts likely ends their playoff hopes.