NEW YORK — So, your Ottawa Senators have officially reached the midway point of this wild and crazy 48-game schedule.
Now the question, Sens Fan: Is your cup half full or half empty where this hockey club is concerned?
On the bright side of the ledger — despite being hit hard by injuries, the Senators are in a playoff position, alone in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 28 points off a 12-8-4 record.
Considering a final total of about 52 points will likely crack the top eight in the East, if Ottawa can maintain a point per game pace in the second half, it should be in the playoffs.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Senators have fared in the first half.
Note the huge variances in particular segments while the club treads water, overall.
We rate each category as a plus (+), a minus (-) or an even.
Erik Karlsson, with six, still leads the team in goals scored. That says it all for the lowest scoring team in the East, producing 2.21 goals per game on average (shootout goals excluded). Karlsson played just 14 games and has been out of the lineup since Feb. 13.
Kyle Turris is in a horrific slump. Zack Smith is finally on the board, Jason Spezza is on the mend. Things could be looking up.
While allowing more shots on goal (33.1 per game) than every team except Buffalo and Edmonton, the Senators would likely be a minus in this category if their goalies didn’t bail them out pretty consistently.
Considering the losses of premier D-men Karlsson and Jared Cowen, a tip of the cap goes to Andre Benoit, Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba, who have helped fill the void by playing big minutes and in all situations.
Veterans Chris Phillips, Marc Methot and Sergei Gonchar have been steady. At minus-6, Gryba’s inexperience is evident at times.
The men in the blue paint have saved the day, though cracks are showing.
When Ben Bishop allowed five goals on 28 Toronto shots Wednesday, it was one of the few times a goaltender hasn’t ridden to Ottawa’s rescue.
Craig Anderson, who was the NHL’s best when he was injured against the New York Rangers on Feb. 21, has been missed.
Bishop has a 4-4-0 record and Robin Lehner is 0-0-2, heading into a start in New York Friday, possibly against his Swedish hero, Henrik Lundqvist.
Anderson could be back in a week or so, although his ankle is not yet 100 per cent.
POWER OUTAGE (Minus-)
In the early weeks, when their stars were healthy, the Senators had one of the league’s top power plays. Lately it has slipped to 16.2 per cent, 18th best in the NHL. Karlsson cannot swoop in and fix it, but Spezza’s return in two to three weeks will be a huge boost.
On the flip side of the power play, Ottawa’s penalty killing reflects the club’s blue-collar mentality. It doesn’t seem to matter who head coach Paul MacLean uses to kill penalties, they get the job done, to the point that the Senators have climbed into the top three of the league, third overall with an 88.9 per cent efficiency rate.
HOME DEPOT (Even): They’re the biggest homers in hockey. As the old joke went about Lindy Ruff as a player, the Senators are “Ruff” at home, Lindy on the road, 9-1-2 at the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place, 3-7-2 as visitors.
Good thing they still have 12 home games remaining, but it would make life easier to scratch out a few more wins away, starting with Friday at Madison Square Garden, a rink the Senators have owned in recent years.
MASH UNIT (Minus-)
In their worst nightmares, the Senators didn’t foresee losing arguably their two best defenceman, the starting goaltender and two forwards off the top line — tumbling like toy soldiers in a span of a few weeks. But while the two defencemen, Karlsson and Cowen, are not expected to return this season, the others will be back, setting up the possibility of a strong finish.
Give marks where they’re due. Most hockey people wrote off the Senators when Spezza and Karlsson went down, figuring it was all about next year.
Instead, the club has given itself a shot at reaching the playoffs, possibly giving several rookies even more experience than they’ve already gained filling in for the wounded and lame. To Senators management, this has been a valuable audition.
“By the fall, some of our questions will be answered,” said general manager Bryan Murray about the performance of his Binghamton callups.
Murray is proud of how his team has hung in there, led by the old guard of Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Chris Neil, to remain competitive.
He’s pleased with the sudden depth at goaltender.
And resolve? Even when they fall behind by three goals against the Maple Leafs, the Senators push teams to the buzzer.
“Am I pleased? I’m satisfied,” said Murray. “We’re hoping the second half will be better — getting some stability in our lineup would really help. Every night there seems to be another guy getting hurt but we hope we get some of these veterans back.”