A surprising trip to the Eastern Conference final last season won’t allow the Senators to fly under the radar this season.
The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Ottawa Senators.
Stanley Cup odds: 30-1
Key additions: Johnny Oduya, D; Nate Thompson, C
Key departures: Marc Methot, D; Viktor Stalberg, LW; Tommy Wingels, LW
Which Craig Anderson shows up this season?
Oftentimes goaltending is the most puzzling position. In a single season, a once stellar netminder can go from stopping everything that comes his way to struggling to wrangle a soft shot from the blueline with no traffic in front. It’s one of those positions where, seemingly, everything can change from season to season. And few netminders know that as well as Anderson.
Over the past six seasons in Ottawa, Anderson has watched his save percentage numbers yo-yo, and it’s hard to understand why. In his first full season as a Senator, Anderson posted a .914 SP. The following year he managed .941 SP en route to a fourth-place Vezina Trophy finish. And in the four seasons that have since followed, Anderson has posted marks of .911, .923, .916 and, last year, a resurgent .926 SP. He was dynamite under coach Guy Boucher last season, too, posting a .935 SP at 5-on-5. It was an impressive performance, and Anderson maintained it in the playoffs, going 11-8 with a .922 SP as the Senators fought to the Eastern Conference final.
That said, Anderson’s pattern of up and down would seem to suggest that this season is going to be a tough one for the veteran netminder — which might be why Mike Condon got a new deal — but Ottawa’s dedication to a defensive brand of hockey might be able to change that. If it does, look for the Senators to fight back into a playoff position, and even maybe the division title race, by season’s end.
How do the Senators follow up a Cinderella run to the East final that ended in double overtime of Game 7? By proving it was no fluke. It’s a tall order, but Ottawa was an underdog from the start of its playoff run until the moment the Penguins ended it. So even if it seems unlikely, what’s stopping the Sens from a repeat performance?
Having Erik Karlsson at their disposal certainly helps. Until Ottawa’s elimination, Karlsson was the most dominant skater in the playoffs, and he’s coming off his third straight season as a Norris Trophy finalist. His talent alone gives the Sens one of the best bluelines in the league, and it could get much better this season. The addition of Johnny Oduya strengthens the depth, and top prospect Thomas Chabot should give Ottawa a rock-solid top four. That’s crucial given strong, structured defense is the team’s calling card. Ottawa will need timely scoring to make it all come together, and Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Derick Brassard and Kyle Turris can pack a punch. With stingy defense and sneaky-good offense, the Senators could be a sleeper once again come playoff time.
The Senators rode their plodding play to regular season and playoff success, but will the rest of the league catch on and devise a plan to break down Ottawa’s rigid defensive shell? History indicates that could be the case. In his first season coaching Tampa Bay, Guy Boucher had tremendous success relying on his infamous 1-3-1 system, leading the Lightning to the 2010-11 Eastern Conference final. The following season, however, opponents game-planned for the trapping style, and the Lightning dropped nearly 20 points in the standings. By Boucher’s third season, the Bolts were well below .500 two-thirds of the way through the campaign and he was fired.
A similar pattern isn’t out of the question for Ottawa, especially as Boucher’s style of play hasn’t bred the kind of offense that can dig the Sens out of a hole. Their 2.51 goals per game ranked 22nd in the regular season and dipped slightly to 2.47 in the playoffs. The all-defense, all-the-time approach has been shown to work over a short span, but if Boucher’s tenure in Ottawa mirrors that of Tampa Bay, the Sens will end up outside the playoff picture.
THN’s PREDICTION: 4th in Atlantic. Opponents start to figure out how to break down the Senators’ defense and while Ottawa comes close — really close — to earning another berth in the post-season, they ultimately fall a few points short in a tight wild-card race.
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