They have been counted out by many. The Ottawa Senators’ likelihood of making the playoffs this year has, for a while, seemed miniscule. The inconsistencies of the team have seemed far too large for this team to emerge into the race for the playoffs – but somehow, they’ve done it again. The Senators are thriving under the pressure to make the postseason. After being counted out, Ottawa has clawed their way back in. And after winning their third straight game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings, they sit just four points out of the 2nd available wildcard spot in the thick race of the Eastern Conference.
Not long ago, Ottawa found themselves on the tail end of a three game losing streak after acquiring veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf. It seemed a far stretch for the team to develop any sort of a morale-boosting winning streak, especially with their struggles to do so all season long. Before embarking on their current winning streak of three games, Ottawa had gone on just one streak of that magnitude all season long, dating back to November. Though it’s going to take a lot more than three straight wins to get themselves into the playoffs, Ottawa has certainly shown strides towards improving their lack of consistency that’s plagued the teams’ 2015-16 season.
Zack Smith Having A Career Year
One of the many reasons for the Senators’ most recent success has come from Zack Smith. Taking lots of heat for the way he has been played by head coach Dave Cameron, Smith has most recently found himself a home alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mark Stone. Since then, he has had a burst of offense, scoring five goals in his last eight games.
That goal ties Zack Smith's career high of 14 in 2011-12 #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) February 21, 2016
That burst of offensive has Smith now ranked 4th in Senators’ goals scored this season, just four goals behind Stone while sitting neatly above some notables like Kyle Turris, Pageau, and Mika Zibanejad. Whether or not the population agrees with Smith’s power play time, his season has certainly called for some extra attention. He has undeniably improved on offense. But, regardless of his improvement, there is still a very valid argument to be made that he has been taking up power play time that is much more deserved by the team’s other top scorers.
Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson Are the Cause for Victory
Without Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, there’s no telling where this team would find themselves in the standings. Both players have become crucially important to Ottawa’s season.
Through being challenged by the most amount of shots in the NHL on any given night, Anderson has stood tall. His overall numbers may not particularly show that, but he simply gives his team a chance to win – especially as of late.
Craig Anderson's got a .949 SV% and 1.66 GAA over his last six starts.
— The 6th Sens (@6thSens) February 20, 2016
On Monday those numbers earned Ottawa’s starter the crown of the NHL’s 3rd star of the week.
And while Anderson does his job keeping the puck out of the net, Karlsson is in amongst the race of winning his 3rd Norris Trophy in a row. Most recently being claimed by Sportsnet as “The Best Defenceman in the World”, Karlsson’s season is living up to those expectations. Through 60 games, Karlsson has tallied 65 points (how convenient) which is one point behind his point total for last season – where he won his 2nd Norris in a row.
Updated: Erik Karlsson Current Season vs. Norris-Winning Seasons. 12 ahead of #1, 19 ahead of #2. pic.twitter.com/8Jyvj4l8ds
— Sens Charts (@SensCharts) February 20, 2016
Karlsson is currently ranked 3rd in the NHL in points. If you take a scroll down that list, the next defenceman you’ll find is Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks – with 49 points (ranked 20th).
Though the idea of making the playoffs is still a long-shot in Ottawa, the team certainly has the pieces to do it. And, similarly to last year, the opportunity is there for them to make the postseason. It simply comes down to execution now, with 22 games remaining. Having struggled with that “simple” concept most of this season, do the Senators have what it takes?