This wasn’t how things were supposed to go for the Senators this season. One year removed from a Cinderella-esque run to the Eastern Conference final, one that saw Ottawa come one single, solitary goal shy of earning a berth in the Stanley Cup final, the expectation was that this could be a year of further growth for the Senators, a campaign to build upon the past season’s successes and take a step towards bringing a title to town for the first time in franchise history.
Reality couldn’t be further from the expectation, however, as more than one-third of the way through the 2017-18 season, the Senators sit a mere three points out of the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division basement, are mired in their second lengthy losing streak in a month’s time and have found themselves battling the rumor mill as trade speculation swirls around the struggling group. And even when presented an opportunity to get back on track, as they were Tuesday against the hapless and near league-worst Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa couldn’t manage a single point, instead falling 3-2 in what was yet another unimpressive showing. That’s the worst part of all, too: Tuesday’s loss wasn’t exactly an isolated incident.
The Senators failing to perform and get their season back on track has been a near constant for the better part of the past month. In fact, since Nov. 16, there hasn’t been a team worse than Ottawa. On that day, the Senators dropped a contest to the Pittsburgh Penguins and proceed to follow it up with seven straight defeats. And after finally breaking the slide with a 6-5 skin-of-their-teeth victory over the New York Islanders, the Senators went right back in the losing column and have proceeded to drop five in a row.
Such a losing streak can sometimes lead to a chorus of cries for a trade to liven up the group, but that hardly seems the cure-all for what has ailed Ottawa. Matter of fact, the Senators’ downturn coincides almost perfectly with their attempt to do as much. The Matt Duchene acquisition came on Nov. 5, days before Ottawa crossed the pond to play back-to-back outings against Duchene’s former team, the Colorado Avalanche. The Senators won the two contests in Sweden by twin 4-3 scores, but the victory over the Islanders has been the only win since. Duchene hasn’t done much to lift Ottawa, either. He has four points in his past 13 games — his only points as a Senator — and Ottawa’s attack has been dreadful. They’ve been shut out three times in their past five games and four times in their past 11 outings, and only twice since Nov. 16 have the Senators scored more than two goals in a game.
So, if a trade isn’t the answer and if Ottawa hasn’t found a path forward internally, one has to wonder if the Senators’ brass won’t decide the next-best course of action is changing things up behind the bench given the extent to which coach Guy Boucher’s group is struggling.
Dating back to the loss to the Penguins, the Senators have the fewest goals of any team (20), most goals against (48), worst goal differential (minus-28), third-worst power play (8.7 percent) and fifth-worst penalty kill (74.4 percent). Worse yet, there’s not much that suggests Ottawa is doing the right things and simply not being rewarded. Since mid-November, the Senators have posted the ninth-worst 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage (48 percent) when adjusted for venue and score. They have the second-worst actual shots for percentage (45.1 percent) over the same span. And Boucher’s Senators have also been heavily out-chanced while surrendering far too many high-danger opportunities.
It doesn’t help that there has been no individual success under Boucher of late, either, which is to say no one has taken the reins to drag this team out of its slump. Consider that Jimmy Howard and Scott Darling are the only netminders who have played as many games since mid-November as Craig Anderson, who has seen action nine times, to post a worse save percentage than the Senators starter’s .895 mark. Meanwhile, Erik Karlsson has hit an uncharacteristic slump with two points, both assists, across the 13 games and Mark Stone is the only Ottawa attacker scoring at more than half a point per game. He has seven points in 13 outings, while Ryan Dzingel and Mike Hoffman sit tied for second over this brutal baker’s dozen with six points apiece.
This isn’t the first time Boucher has had this happen, either. Hired by the Lightning in 2010, he coached Tampa Bay to the Eastern Conference final in his first campaign as an NHL bench boss. The next season, the Lightning finished two games above .500 and outside the post-season before a 13-18-1 run in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season cost Boucher his job.
Some may be of the belief there’s no way Boucher could be on the hot seat following a campaign in which he brought the Senators so close to a conference title. The reality is, though, that in a results-driven business, there’s very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality. Take Ken Hitchcock, one of the winningest coaches in league history, who took the St. Louis Blues to the post-season for five straight seasons before a trip to the Western Conference final in 2015-16. Following that season, he was brought back on a one-year extension. Hitchcock lasted 50 games into the 2016-17 season, over which time he posted a 24-21-5 record, before he was shown the door. Boucher’s Senators would need to go 15-8-0 over their next 23 games to have a similar record.
Truthfully, the only promising sign for Boucher’s Senators at the moment is that the team’s PDO (combined shooting and save percentage) at 5-on-5 indicates luck hasn’t been breaking their way. Ottawa has only had a 4.8 shooting percentage and .905 SP at five-a-side since the slump really took hold. The PDO of .954 would indicate little, if anything, has gone right for the Senators over the past month. But the statistical suggestion of future success isn’t much for Ottawa or Boucher to hang their proverbial hats on, and if the wins don’t start coming soon, one has to wonder how much leash Boucher has left.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.