Earning a pair of victories in their final two games on a western road swing which saw the Ottawa Senators lose 5-1 in San Jose and 4-1 in Vegas to open their trip, has given the club reason for optimism they can climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Yes, there’s a lot of track to cover, and many teams to leapfrog, but history shows they’ve been in this position before.
In 2014-15 the Senators became the first NHL squad to claw their way into the postseason after trailing by as much as 14 points in February. In fact, they were one game under .500, possessing a 22-23-10 record as late as February 16.
Buoyed by a “Hamburglar” run between the pipes and Mark Stone‘s goal-scoring heroics, the team went 21-3-3 down the stretch to lock down a playoff berth.
While a run such as this is extremely rare; with the season barely passing the quarter pole the Senators have an opportunity to inch their way back from their current 8-12-1 record when they host the slumping New York Rangers who are winless in three straight, Wednesday at the Canadian Tire Centre.
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However, underlying numbers portray the club deserves a better fate.
The Senators are fifth league-wide in puck possession, maintaining a 52.96 % Corsi efficiency at even strength. For fans not familiar with this analytic stat, Corsi is total shot attempts at goal for divided total shot attempts against. The team’s goal differential is on equal footing playing 5-on-5, and the Senators possess the NHL’s fifth-ranked power play with a 24.7 % mark.
These stats alone show the Senators should climb up the standings, providing they maintain this pace.
Team captain Brady Tkachuk is in the midst of his best season as a pro, leading by example, his 25 points, (nine goals, 16 assists) are tops on the club.
Tim Stützle is averaging slightly over a point per game (22 points in 21 games) and appears to be adding to his repertoire each time he makes an appearance.
Then there are the contributions of Claude Giroux on and off the ice, displaying veteran leadership while registering 20 points himself.
Alex DeBrincat is also rounding into form of late. While rookie d-man Jake Sanderson is performing like a seasoned defender. His freshman former University of North Dakota teammate Shane Pinto has slowed down from his early torrid scoring pace. However, Pinto is capably filling his newly-found second-line centre role.
Like most teams, injuries can hamper a team’s performance. The loss of first-line pivot Josh Norris to a shoulder injury tested the Senators’ depth up front. While not having Artem Zub for 10 games and Thomas Chabot for five was a mitigating factor for their recent skid.
The Senators’ record with Chabot/Zub on the back end this season is 6-3-0 and without… 2-9-1.
Norris, a 35-goal man in only 66 games last season, skates in all situations. His loss, combined with the organization’s subtractions in forwards Connor Brown, Nick Paul, and Alex Formenton have hurt the club defensively. The trio were key members of the Senators’ penalty kill unit, which now ranks 19th in the NHL.
Formenton’s five shorthanded markers in the 2021-22 campaign tied him with the Kings’ Trevor Moore.
There’s a chance Formenton, currently a restricted free agent, will join the club this week as he needs to sign a contract prior to December 1 at 5 pm to play in the NHL this season – though that chance remains slim at this point. Senators general manager Pierre Dorion and Formenton’s representative Wade Arnott have had five months to come to an agreement and have yet to do so.
The 23-year-old does have the option of signing his one-year, $787,500 qualifying offer.
But for the Ottawa Senators to get on a roll, they’ll require consistent goaltending, reduce shots against, clamping down on d-zone coverage, and staying out of the box.
Cam Talbot has given his team stellar netminding over his past two starts, stopping 56 of 59 shots.
Despite a 3-5-0 record, the 35-year-old is posting a 2.51 Goals Against Average and a .919 save percentage.
Anton Forsberg on the other hand has yet to find his groove from last season. Forsberg has given his team several solid starts. However, his 3.43 GAA and .904 save PCT are below expectations.
On the team’s defensive side of the ice, the opposition is pepping 33.6 shots on goal per game, sixth-most against league-wide.
It also doesn’t help, the Senators are on the PK 3.95 times per game, the second-highest shorthanded rate in the NHL behind the Coyotes at 3.96.
There’s plenty of work to do to get back into the race, but there’s no reason it can’t start now.
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