October 01 2012 03:40PM
In 2006-07, the Ottawa Senators finished with a plus-67 goal differential, 105 points and a loss in the Stanley Cup Finals in the post-season. In 2007-08, that goal differential dropped to plus-14 and they were swept in the first round. Over the next three seasons, the team would miss the playoffs twice, never finish with a positive goal differential and overall allowed 91 more goals than they scored.
In 2011-12, they finished plus-9 and made their return to the playoffs. Will the improvement continue?
The Senators boasted one of the NHL’s most potent attacks last season, finishing fourth in league scoring and just narrowly missing the three goals per game mark. Despite the departures of Nick Foligno and some auxiliary pieces, the team actually got better up front over the summer. One of the key additions came via free agency. Guillaume Latendresse is certainly an injury risk but the Senators didn’t pay much for him and if he pays off he could pay off in spades. From earlier this summer:
He’s young, big, often physical, and more importantly he’s a pretty good possession player who has consistently been a high-percentage goal-scorer over his NHL career (on 568 career shots, Latendresse is a 14.3% shooter; he’s never been below 12.0% in a single NHL season).
Latendresse might not even be the most significant addition to the team. Twenty-one year old Jakob Silfverberg is coming off a Elitserien season that saw him put up 54 points in 49 games as the captain in Brynas; he scored 13 times in 17 playoff contests. Also in the mix is 2011’s sixth overall pick, Mika Zibanejad and first-year pro Mark Stone, fresh off a 123-point WHL campaign. They join a group that already features the league’s fourth-leading scorer last year in Jason Spezza, as well as highly competent veterans like Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek (the latter likely out until late October after abdominal surgery).
Photo: Michael Miller/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
The key member of the defensive corps is clearly Erik Karlsson, who led all defencemen in scoring and finished tied for 10th overall league-wide. He earned the Norris Trophy for his efforts and was promptly re-signed to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. He should once again be the most important player on the Ottawa blue line, but it’s a significant stretch to expect him to repeat that performance.
Last year’s number two, Filip Kuba, is gone along with depth Matts Carkner and Gilroy. Those losses will be replaced by Marc Methot, Mike Lundin and likely Mark Borowiecki. Methot and Lundin should be a superior duo to Carkner and Gilroy, while Filip Kuba’s 2011-12 season was to no small degree dependent on the successes of Karlsson.
The rest of the group consists of fading workhorses Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips, as well as second year NHL’er Jared Cowen.
This group needs to do a better job of preventing shots and goals against next year, although it’s far from clear that the blue line has been significantly upgraded. The Senators ranked 24th in the league in terms of goals-against last season (one spot behind Edmonton) and 26th in terms of shots-against in 5-on-5 situations.
One place where the Senators look to be set is in net. Starter Craig Anderson, with the exception of a half-season collapse in 2010-11, has been a solid NHL goaltender over the last few seasons and that seems likely to continue. He’s managed a cumulative save percentage of 0.915 over the past three seasons, tied for 19th among NHL goalies with more than 100 games played.
Backup Ben Bishop is one of the biggest goaltenders in hockey (standing 6’7”) and was solid over 10 games last season at the NHL level, and superb over 41 in the minors. His record in previous seasons in the minors is just okay, but he should be able to handle the number two role after a breakthrough 2011-12, and even if he can’t the minor-league duo of Robin Lehner and Nathan Lawson is quite good and either could fill in.
By The Numbers
- 5-on-5 Shots For/60: 31.7 (5th in the NHL)
- 5-on-5 Shooting Percentage: 8.7 percent (9th in the NHL)
- 5-on-5 Shots Against/60: 30.7 (26th in the NHL)
- 5-on-5 Save Percentage: 0.918 (tied for 16th in the NHL)
- 5-on-4 Shots For/60: 47.6 (16th in the NHL)
- 5-on-4 Shooting Percentage: 12.9 percent (9th in the NHL)
- 4-on-5 Shots Against/60: 52.9 (23rd in the NHL)
- 4-on-5 Save Percentage: 0.881 (15th in the NHL)
There’s a clear skew to those numbers: the Senators got some help from the percentages last year but are clearly a well above average offensive team; unfortunately they give up almost as much the other way.
The core is young, and so the team should continue to progress but with that said there’s little reason to expect massive improvement this season. The Senators should be slightly better thanks to modest upgrades up front and the developing core but their defensive game needs big improvements if they’re to be a contender.