The Ottawa Senators allowed five goals to the Philadelphia Flyers for the second time in the past seven days Tuesday.
After their game at the Wells Fargo Centre, the team is now 4-4-1 against teams who are below .500., and 4-5-3 against teams above .500. This would suggest they are about average, and this is reflected in their overall record of 8-9-4. What’s interesting is the fact that some fans think the team is playing horrible hockey, yet, they have not lost by more than 3 goals to a team above .500. Their two worst losses of the season to above .500 teams were not by more than 3 goals, 4-1 to the Ducks, and 5-2 to the Sharks, respectively. In another 6 games against teams who have won more than 50 per cent of their games, the team has lost by only one goal.
In addition, they have beat Boston, who currently leads the Atlantic, and Detroit, scoring a total of 10 goals and allowing only 3 in those two games. The rest of the games have been solid wins, or straight up ugly for the Senators.
We’ve seen a team who can man-handle powerhouses, and a team that gets ripped apart by playoff longshots. So, which is it?
Another four interviews from Paul McLean and the players reciting the “we need to be better” speech would be stale. “Make a roster move!” says some of the fan base. With virtually no budget available and an overstaffed team, there is almost no room to do so.
Sens fans watched Kyle Turris flick at the puck after a feed from Bobby Ryan against the Flyers. Turris was a stick length from the goal line when he touched the puck, and all he could do was softly toss it into Nicklas Grossman’s shin pad where it, after, may or may not have bounced behind the goal line. The call on the ice was “no-goal”, and so their would need to be conclusive evidence that the puck crossed the line to overturn the call. There were apparently none in all the angles the war room had at its disposal.
“Rip-off,” some fans tweeted (something along those lines) after hearing that the call on the ice was going to stand. Soon after, the game was over as the Flyers re-focused and scored two quick goals in under 25 seconds. Both goals were reminders of Ottawa’s failure to be defensively accountable. After 21 games, the team’s collective +/- is an extremely low plus-6. Defence is a team responsibility more than offence is, and it’s no wonder Ottawa has allowed the seventh most goals in the league.
Where in that mess is the problem? Is the team just not that good? Are the expectations too high? Most teams are at the point in their seasons where their performance can be extrapolated for the remainder of the season. Pending significant injuries to key players and other unforeseen setbacks, how a team is playing now is likely how they’ll play the rest of the season.
So, is the team just not that good? No. The team is fine and expectations are about where they need to be. Why? Because, on paper in terms of gains and losses that can be measured, the team is essentially the same from last season. They played with minor league caliber in 2012-13 and made the playoffs. They’ve got all their stars back (plus some), and now the playoffs seems less likely than a below-25th league finish.
One of the issues is not that the team lacks talent or skill, it’s that they lack urgency in their behavior on the ice. In that mess above, the problem is that Kyle Turris didn’t put the puck in the net with little more than a toothpick (Grossman’s leg) guarding it. And Turris knew it.
“Obviously it was close enough to be looked at, but it shouldn’t have been even close,” he said post-game. “I was more pissed off at myself for not scoring on it.”
Bad luck? Absolutely not. A forward should go to the net with the intent of putting the puck, not only into the back of the net, but through the boards. That’s urgency. Instead, he passed the puck softly to the only portion of the net that was being covered.
This lack of urgency also shows on defence when players like Jared Cowen and Erik Karlsson don’t challenge opposing players at their blueline, or when they go to the net. The Flyer players should’ve had to think twice before crossing Ottawa’s blueline Tuesday. But instead, they rushed the net from the corner with zero back pressure from any Sens player on goal three, and they pranced into the zone with no pressure from Jared Cowen on goal four. Watch the highlights and see for yourself.
If one does decide to watch the highlights from that game, they’ll also notice there are several occasions where the Senators showcased their lethal offensive capabilities, highlighted by excellent scoring chances from Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacAthur. This team has scored the ninth most goals in the league. Offensively, they’re a powerhouse.
Defensively, the team is a mess. But needing defensive help does not mean go beyond budget to add another stay-at-home defencemen. It means play defence, and that goes for the entire team — not just the defencemen. Fans are looking for someone to blame, and because the Senators are a business, they’ll do what they can to show their customers that they’re trying to fix the problem by throwing money around. That’s not the solution, and don’t be surprised if, somehow a roster move is made, that it doesn’t solve the problem.
Oh, and Chris Neil played his 800th career game Tuesday against the Flyers.