As the saying goes, hope springs eternal at the outset of each new season. The hope for the Ottawa Senators was the lack of roster turnover would translate to greater success in 2015/16. Well, October has come and gone and let’s just say things could have been better for the Sens. Here’s a look at some of the trends that stood out during the team’s first month of the season.
Home (not so) sweet home: After a long road swing, the prospect of returning home to play in front of friendly crowds – and reap the benefits of the sixth man – is an attractive one for most teams. The opposite, however, has been true of the Sens whose play on home ice has left plenty to be desired. Of their first 11 games this season, the Sens have played six at home, going 1-3-2 at Canadian Tire Centre. Some of those losses have been of the tough-luck variety – the Sens fell to the Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes, despite arguably being the better of the two teams in each of those games – while others were well-deserved. The Sens have been polar opposites on the road, meanwhile, going 4-1-0.
Red, white and black and blue all over: The Sens are a physical team, ranking 12th in the league in hits (276), but that’s not what black and blue is in reference to. The injury bug has spread around the Senators’ dressing room like the common cold, sending player after player to the press box in the process. According to mangameslost.com, Ottawa has already lost 34 man games to injury, which puts them seventh in the league. Here’s a summary of who’s sat out: Chris Phillips (back, out indefinitely); Andrew Hammond (groin, missed three games); Clarke MacArthur (concussion, missed seven games); Mike Hoffman (groin, missed four games); Curtis Lazar (concussion, missed three games); and Marc Methot (concussion, missed three games). Hammond and Methot have since returned, and Lazar and Hoffman are expected to return Nov. 3 against the Montreal Canadiens, but MacArthur remains sidelined.
Sin(bin)ful behaviour: The Sens have worn out a path to the penalty box through 11 games, playing shorthanded 45 times – a figure that trails only the Winnipeg Jets who have been shorthanded 46 times. In only three games have the Sens been perfect on the penalty kill, including an astounding 7/7 against Montreal in Ottawa’s home opener. More concerning than the fact Ottawa is one of the worst penalty killing teams in the league (its 75.5 PK percentage is sixth worst) is the coincidentally poor timing of its penalty killers’ struggles. Ottawa has allowed a powerplay goal to fall behind 1-0 in four games and twice has allowed powerplay goals that tied the goal and were eventually responsible for sending the game to overtime. Ottawa’s 13.5 PP percentage hasn’t done much to negate the effects of its poor PK.
The little things: Aside from the bigger issues mentioned above, the Sens are failing in a few other aspects of the game. They’ve surrendered the first goal in eight of 11 games, and have lost six of those eight, compared to a perfect 3-0-0 record when scoring first – proving once again it pays to play while ahead. The Sens also haven’t given their goaltenders much help in those games, surrendering an average of 32.5 shots per game. That number is down considerably from the bloated shots against totals earlier this season (and has been aided by the 30.5 shots the Sens now average per game). Finally, despite the introduction of 3-on-3 OT (a gimmick Erik Karlsson is none too happy with), the Sens have used the skills competition in four games. Fortunately for the Sens they’ve emerged victorious in two of those, but their strategy in the extra period undoubtedly needs some tinkering.