The Ottawa Senators made everyone fall in love with them over the summer. Well, anyone that didn’t support a rival of theirs.
After five seasons of missing the playoffs and accruing a bevy of top-end talent through the early rounds of the draft, the Senators decided to break out of the addictive cycle of low expectations and hoping for some draft-lottery luck. General manager Pierre Dorion signed quasi hometown boy Claude Giroux, stole scoring winger Alex Debrincat from the Blackhawks, and looked to solidify the goaltending by acquiring Cam Talbot.
Everything looked peachy and they were poised to make some noise in the difficult Atlantic division — a David among the Goliaths known as the Leafs, Lightning, and Bruins. Unfortunately, that came all crumbling down and their expected heroic tale was trashed due to their underwhelming play and some key injuries to players like centre Josh Norris and defenseman Artem Zub.
Now, prior to Tuesday's game against the Jets, the Sens find themselves at the bottom of the division with a 14-15-2 record and with six total players missing from their regular lineup. That's not really an ideal position to be in, needless to say, but it's too early to fully count the Senators out just yet as this group can still reasonably reach the goal of making the playoffs this season. Stop laughing, we are serious.
The Senators are currently eight points below the Islanders, who are desperately holding on to the second Wild Card spot in the East. And while that might not be a favourable gap of points to overcome, there are some small signs that should spell out a surge of production for Ottawa in the second half of the season.
We are just 31 games in, after all, and there's still a whole lot of time left.
At first glance it's immediately noticeable how much better the Senators’ goal differential is compared to other bottom-dwelling teams. The Sens have a still-bad minus-1 goal differential, but teams who are above them in the standings, like the Canadiens (minus-20) and the Red Wings (minus-10) have won more games but overall have not had the same amount of success at scoring and preventing goals. Ottawa has both scored more and allowed less than both of those teams, which should even out eventually and lead to the Senators winning more games.
Even if you don’t want to just accept the broad brush stroke stat, or the basic equation of scoring more goals and allowing less leads to winning games (real Hockey Genius over here), the Senators have, on average, outplayed their opponents.
According to Evolving-Hockey, the Senators have the upper hand against their opponents at 5-on-5 in shots on goal, shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, and expected goals — all of those metrics are above the 50 percent threshold. The only overall stat not working in their favour right now is actual goals.
Even when you look at something so basic as are they getting more shots on goal than their opponents, it paints a pretty inviting picture for Sens fans. The only teams not currently in a playoff spot that have an advantage in that category are the Flames, Capitals, Panthers, and Sabres. All four of those teams are within at most four points for a playoff spot, a heavy advantage compared to where the Senators are in the standings.
With all that underlying play still going the Sens’ way and the need to simply score more goals as the obvious answer, there's plenty of reason to believe this team will turn it around soon with a little more puck luck.
Reinforcements are on the way, too. Earlier this month, Norris was back on the ice and skating with the team in a non-contact jersey and appears to have recently shed the precautionary sweater. It makes complete sense that with his absence, the Senators struggled to score. Losing a 35-goal scorer for all but five games would hurt every single team in this league, not to mention a team that depends on that player more than some.
And even without Norris, and more recently Tim Stützle and Mathieu Joseph, the Senators are still managing to gather up some points because of their overall play. Before Sunday’s loss to the Wild, Ottawa won four consecutive games and scored a respectable 15 goals during that stretch.
This isn’t just a scrappy team full of no-name players trying to overperform. The Senators have the star power to push themselves beyond what they are seen as right now. Whether they do make a late-season playoff push or not, it's going to be a fun ride nevertheless.
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