The lowest point total that made the playoffs for the Eastern Conference last season was an even 100. The Washington Capitals had something of a stranglehold on that spot, with the next closest team being the New York Islanders with 84 points. While the Ottawa Senators measurably improved this offseason, there should be no major regressions at the top of the league. Competitive teams kept their core together, and only really lower-ranked teams saw big negative changes. Given the changes that happened, we can assume that 100 points in the East should guarantee a wildcard spot again this year. After finishing last year with just 73 points, what does a path to playoffs look like for a refreshed Senators squad?
The Easy(ish) Points
Hockey is one of those sports where anything can happen. Weird bounces, a goalie who’s just not on that night, or a surprise hat trick from someone who is feeling it can all decide a game. With that said, there are some games that should be easy wins for the Senators. Last season, the team played 19 games against teams who finished the season ranked below them. These are teams that should represent fairly easy wins on the calendar. Dropping two games to the Chicago Blackhawks can’t happen this year if the team wants to be in the hunt come springtime.
|Team||Sens Wins||Sens Losses|
|New Jersey Devils||3||0|
Of those series, they won 10, lost eight in regulation, and lost one in overtime. Given that these teams were objectively “worse” based on their finishing positions, those should be the easiest games to get extra wins on. This season, they’ll have 20 total games against those same teams. The Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens should be better this time around, but the Senators’ roster still holds an advantage over those clubs. If the planets align, getting those 10 extra wins from the league-bottom teams can add 19 points over last year’s endeavor. While it’s not impossible, it’s far from likely. If they want to secure a wildcard spot, the Senators need to hammer these weaker teams.
The Hard Points
For all of the improvements on and off the ice this year, the biggest challenge facing the Senators is that they continue to live in the Atlantic Division. The big four in the Atlantic are not to be trifled with and proved to be far too much for the Senators last season. The Boston Bruins are going to be the best chance to gain ground in the division. But beating these teams isn’t just crucial for gaining points; stealing points from the Bruins paves an additional avenue to the playoffs.
|Team||Sens Wins||Sens Losses|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||1||3|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1||3|
Over 16 games against these teams, the Senators were, to be blunt, obliterated. They won just four games and managed to scrape together three overtime loss points. Following the season opener against the Sabres, the Senators will play the Bruins and Maple Leafs back to back. After last year’s horrendous start, this team can’t afford to start slow. Winning those two games can set a precedent for this new year. If they can improve to win half the games they play against this group, they could pick up an extra eight points. Play .500 hockey against the division and beat down the league’s bottom teams, and they’re at 100 points. Again, not impossible, but highly unlikely.
A Hot Start & Stealing Points Are Critical
Beyond the layout of divisional teams, there are two key factors for the Senators to move forward this year. The first is they absolutely cannot start like they did last year. By the time New Year’s Eve hit, the team was at nine wins in 28 games. It is imperative they get off to a better start. The other item is stealing those key wins against the teams they are most likely to challenge for a playoff spot. Losing to the Panthers hurts because you miss out on two points. Losing out to the Capitals means you’ve missed a chance to pick up two and hold them down in the race.
The games against the Bruins, Capitals, and Penguins are of the utmost importance. Those are the teams that continue to remain in the playoff hunt but exist toward the lower end of the playoff race. Winning these games is paramount if the Senators want to advance to the postseason. Getting there will be difficult this year, but it’s not impossible. Given that the Capitals appear to be making one final push before their window closes, the Senators need to capitalize on every chance to get past them for a wild-card spot.
Related: 3 Senators Who Can Contend for an NHL Award in 2022-23
A lot of things have to go right if the Senators want to touch the playoffs. Fans shouldn’t expect it, honestly. While the discussion here is on the games and schedule, getting these wins comes down to what we can expect from the individual player performances this season. If they don’t perform, then these hypothetical wins evaporate. But maybe, just maybe, the pesky Sens could get back to the playoffs for the first time in five years.