Monday, November 27, 2017

Weekend wrap: Sens of urgency

So it’s probably time to talk about the Senators again.

The first time we led with Ottawa, it was two weeks into the season and they’d just rolled through western Canada, looking an awful lot like a team that was picking up where last year’s conference finalist had left off. A few weeks later, they were bringing in reinforcements, pulling off a blockbuster three-way deal for Matt Duchene. Both times, optimism was the word of the day in Ottawa.

Today, not so much. The Senators followed the Duchene trade with a trip to Sweden, where they swept two against the Avalanche. But since returning to North America, they’ve been a disaster, losing six straight and picking up just a single point in the process. It’s their worst stretch by far of the Guy Boucher era, and it’s dropped them into the ranks of the Eastern Conference also-rans, nestled in between the Hurricanes and Flyers. Today, the Sens are sitting three points out of an Atlantic playoff spot, and six back of a wild-card berth.

Even worse, the Duchene trade seems to have thrown a wrench into the offence, which hasn’t scored more than twice during the losing streak after scoring three or more in seven of eight games before the deal. And Duchene himself certainly hasn’t helped the cause, contributing just a single point since arriving while posting an ugly -10 rating.

The good news is that Duchene is coming off his best game as a Senator, which came during Saturday’s loss to the Islanders. He had a power-play goal late in the game, and didn’t post a minus rating for the first time (he was even):

That’s not exactly a breakthrough, but at this point you start with baby steps.

More important, the underlying numbers suggest that Duchene’s lack of production is more due to a swing of bad luck than anything in particular that he is or isn’t doing. He’s putting almost twice as many shots on net as a Senator than he was in Colorado, but he’s getting PDO’d to death at both ends of the ice. That kind of stuff can happen to anyone over the course of a year, and if it’s buried in the middle of a season we may not even notice it. But when it comes in a player’s first few games after a monster trade, it gets people talking. (Kyle Turris has six points in eight games in Nashville, in case you were wondering.)

But while you might be able to shrug off Duchene’s struggles as a temporary blip, there’s at least some reason for concern with the Senators as a group. Their record is already inflated by loser points, with just eight actual wins to show for 22 games. That’s a stat that can go both ways, since some better luck in overtime and shootout coin flips would mean a few extra points. But they’re already well back of just about everyone else in the ROW tie-breaker, which could come into play if the playoff race is close.

So what’s wrong? It’s not about injuries; with the exception of Erik Karlsson‘s delayed start to the season, they’ve been reasonably healthy. They are getting hurt by goaltending, with Craig Anderson posting a .895 save percentage. Normally we might write that off as a slump by a guy who’s usually among the league’s best, and it probably is, but you get a little nervous when a guy who’s 36 starts to stumble.

No team is ever as bad as they look during a losing streak, so we have to go bigger picture when trying to figure out the Senators. And there’s a good chance that Anderson settles in, Duchene adjusts to his new home, Karlsson wins a few games singlehandedly and everything turns out OK. But it’s also possible that the Senators we’ve seen so far this season are an accurate reflection of what this team should be — in other words, one that loses more than they win, keeps it relatively close in the process, and hangs around the outside of the playoff picture.

And of course, they’ve already played most of their trade chips, at least in terms of future assets. We often hear about how crucial it is for Ottawa’s bottom line that the team always at least make the post-season. If things don’t turn around soon, we might be about to find out just how crucial.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Nashville Predators (14-6-3, +7 true goals differential*): Last year’s conference champs had won nine of 10 before yesterday’s shootout loss in Carolina.

4. Winnipeg Jets (14-6-3, +10): They didn’t impress during Saturday’s showcase game in San Jose, but two of three in California ain’t bad.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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