Special Teams Key to Senators Success

When General Manager Pierre Dorion hired Head Coach Guy Boucher, one of the things he wanted to see the Senators improve on was special teams. In the 2015-16 campaign, the Senators were 26th in the league on the powerplay, scoring 15.8% of the time and 29th in the league on the penalty kill at 75.8%. If the Senators hope to make a return to the post-season, their special teams need to improve dramatically.

Boucher – A Special Teams Specialist?

Perhaps one of the reasons GM Pierre Dorion hired Guy Boucher was because of his past success on the powerplay. In his first year coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boucher had Tampa ranked sixth on the power play and eighth on the penalty kill. That year, Tampa finished with 103 points and 5th place in the Eastern Conference, a big improvement from the 2009-2010 campaign, where they finished 12th in the Conference with 80 points.

Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators, NHL, Hockey
Guy Boucher (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

Senators fans are hoping that Boucher’s coaching history repeats itself in 2016-17. Just like when he coached the Lightning, having a great powerplay and penalty kill are crucial in securing a playoff berth, especially when there is so much parity in the NHL. A powerplay goal can be the difference between getting two points and securing a playoff berth.

Speaking to Postmedia’s Ken Warren in May, Cory Conacher, who was coached by Boucher in 2012-13 with the Lightning and most recently with SC Bern of the Swiss NLA league, praised the way Boucher ran the powerplay. “He’s a power-play specialist, our power play in Bern was at about 26 or 27%. He’ll make sure the guys with the hardest shots ­— like Karlsson and Hoffman  — will get the opportunity to get those shots off.”

Are Special Teams Improving?

With Guy Boucher earning praise from former players, and the stats backing up his ability to run an effective power play, Senators fans should hope to see some improvement under the new coaching regime. When you have a player like Erik Karlsson quarterbacking your power play combined with the structure that Boucher brings, fans should expect to see improvement.

Currently, through ten games the Senators powerplay scoring currently sits at 11.1% overall, good for 25th in the NHL. From a ranking perspective, the powerplay has improved, but there are major differences between how the power play has performed at home versus on the road. At home, the Senators are 28th in the NHL with the man advantage at 5.9% — last season it was 30th overall and sat at 11.4%. On the road, it sits at 12th in the league and at 20% — last season they were 8th overall and at 21.3% on the road.

Looking at the penalty kill, there are definitely signs of improvement. This season the Senators are 16th overall at 81.8%, versus last season where it was 29th overall and 75.8%.

The percentage of goals scored on the man advantage has gone down from 2015-16, a statistic that the coaching staff and players will be looking to fix as the season progresses. The Senators are 7-3-0 through the first ten games and are in a playoff position in the Atlantic division. Even though they are winning games, if the powerplay doesn’t improve, this record isn’t sustainable.

Looking at history, the majority of teams that advance to the postseason, and make it past round one are in the top half of the league in power play scoring. If the Senators want to increase their chances of making the post-season, they need to have a more effective power play. With so much parity in the NHL right now, capitalizing on the man advantage could mean the difference between making the post-season or missing it altogether.