Oh what a difference a year makes.
It was but a season ago when Ottawa Senators fans were revelling in their team’s historically great play; when Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond was stealing wins on a nightly basis; when jolly Curtis Lazar was eating burgers off the ice without a care in the world; when Mark Stone was picking pockets and sniping his way to a Calder Trophy nomination.
But that image is about as much of a contrast as is conceivable to Sens fans in a 2015/16 season that has offered them little reason to feel excited about their team.
Instead of warming the hearts of Sens fans – and the NHL at large – with his story of perseverance and determination, Hammond is warming the bench as Craig Anderson’s backup and struggling to win when he does get the crease. Rather than setting the league on fire with their inspired play, the Sens are getting lit up by the opposition with frightening regularity.
But if you’re searching for something – anything – to feel positive about, there is hope. Stone continues to be a takeaway specialist, leading the league with 80 to sit 27 ahead of second place Jeff Skinner, while Mike Hoffman is tied for seventh in the NHL in goals. Erik Karlsson, meanwhile, has put the league on notice with 55 points in 52 games (tied for third in the NHL).
But watching the performance of the aforementioned three offers only temporary relief from the eyesore that is the rest of the team. Despite their offensive acumen – they’re eighth in league scoring, having ranked in the top five for long stretches this season – the Sens have still managed the second worst goal differential at minus-22.
Shaky goaltending aside, Ottawa’s inability to prevent goals stems largely from a woefully poor possession game. At five-on-five the team has a Corsi For percentage of 47.1, a number that is better than only four teams. To put that in more tangible numbers, the Sens are surrendering a league-worst average of 33.2 shots-per-game while averaging only 28.4 shots-per-game (26th).
While the Sens have had more than their fair share of stinkers through 52 games this season, it seems the problem has only gotten worse in the last month or so. Since the Christmas break the Sens have surrendered at least 30 shots 12 times in 17 games – but, by some miracle, still managed to win six of those 12 contests – and have lost seven of their last 10 games overall.
Injuries to key pieces of the lineup such as Kyle Turris, Milan Michalek and Marc Methot (along with the continued absence of Clarke MacArthur) certainly haven’t helped, but the Sens aren’t the first team to deal with injuries, nor will they be the last. The simple fact is the Sens haven’t been good enough for much of the season and the law of averages is catching up to them.
Not so long ago Ottawa had legitimate post-season aspirations, sitting just a few points out of a playoff spot. But after a 7-2 drubbing at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 4 – a perfect metaphor for Ottawa’s recent struggles – the Sens (52 points) now sit closer to the bottom feeding Toronto Maple Leafs (47 points) than the playoff-bound New Jersey Devils (58 points).