Senator’s Possession Woes Are Dave Cameron’s Biggest Problem

It’s generally a little early to be thinking of pressing the panic button on a team midway through October, but for the Senators it may be the perfect time. With a four-day break after Saturday’s game against the Predators, Ottawa can take time to reconvene, and review what has so far been a disappointing season. It’s strange to think of a 3-2 record that draws them even with the Lightning as a disappointing season, especially when you consider that the Senators have scored the second most goals in the NHL. The results may be sound but the process it took to get there was certainly not. Here’s the expected goals (XG) map from the Senators game against the Jackets.

Even though the Senators tallied a whopping 7 goals, the team was expected to lose 4.5-2 due to the number of high quality chances they were giving up and the amount of low quality chances they generated. This is just a glimpse of what it is that’s worrying if you’re a Senators fan.


Possession Is Plummeting

(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Last year the Senators were the seventh worst possession team in the league. Their 47.7 CF% (Corsi For percentage) sandwiched them between the Coyotes and the Flyers, and just barely ahead of the Leafs. That all changed when Dave Cameron replaced Paul MacLean. From the time Cameron took over behind the bench the Senators jumped to a 51.2 CF% and were clumped happily with an assortment of playoff teams. Fast-forward to this season and the Sens are back where they began, this time worse than ever. Their 43.7 CF% is the third worst in the league, and the team has yet to post positive possession numbers in a single game.

The team that has taken the ice this season looks nothing like the team that ended last year on a miracle run to the post-season. They always appear to be last to get to a loose puck, the passing always a tad off, and with the exception of the Hoffman-Turris-Stone line no one player has notably stood out. The second line has been getting pummeled possession wise, Karlsson is posting a dismal 40.4 CF%, and the teams best possession player just suffered an upper body injury. If anything the only real bright spot this season has been the young players and Craig Anderson.


So What’s New?

Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators, P.K. Subban, NHL Playoffs
(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

What makes the Sens possession woes even more shocking is that this team isn’t all that different from the one they iced at the end of last season. The only player who isn’t returning is Erik Condra and while he was certainly a huge factor in the Sens bottom six, the winger shouldn’t account for a near 8% drop in possession. The same thing goes for the reintroduction of Chris Neil and Zack Smith into the lineup. While they aren’t possession drivers, they alone can’t contribute to such a drastic change. One change that could be a factor into the Sens struggles is the re-juggling of the top 6. Mika Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan are very effective players, but they need a player that can bring the puck up the ice and get it to them once they’re in scoring position. Mark Stone and Kyle Turris are very effective possession drivers, and have the ability to score but their play-making is what is really invaluable. With such complimentary skill sets it makes sense for Dave Cameron to adjust the lineup accordingly. Stone and Hoffman perform well together and they could provide the puck movement Zibanejad needs to thrive. The same goes for Ryan; alongside a center like Kyle Turris  the former Duck might finally end his scoring drought. As for the bottom six, the introduction of Shane Prince is sure to help and if room could be made for Matt Puempel the Sens depth lines would flourish.

What About the Defence?

Cody Ceci [photo: Amy Irvin]
(photo: Amy Irvin)
The Senators back-end has probably been the biggest surprise so far this season, namely the improvement of Cody Ceci. Without even looking at the numbers you can tell Ceci is a different player than the one who took the ice last season. The young defenceman has been all over the ice and one of the best players for the Senators so far. His partnership with Patrick Wiercioch has been the teams best pairing in terms of possession while the Cowen-Boroweicki pairing has been expectedly horrific, posting a 35 CF%. The other surprise has been the absence of the  top pairing. Yes Karlsson and Methot are there, and yes they’re putting up points, but the two have been nowhere near expectations when it comes to possession. Last season the two defenders had the second and third best possessions numbers on the Sens defensive core, behind only Patrick Wiercioch. This year has seen both of their CF% drop by nearly 10% and I’m not sure there’s an explanation for it. On paper this team is not that different from the team we saw last year, on the ice nothing could be farther from the truth. The pieces are there, it’s just up to Cameron to find the right way to use them.