The Ottawa Senators are not a contender (or are they?)

For all the ups and downs the Ottawa Senators have had early this season, it turns out they’re right where they should be as they approach the NHL quarter pole.

For all the ups and downs the Ottawa Senators have already had this NHL season, it turns out they’re right where they should be as they approach the quarter pole.

During the preseason, Senators general manager Bryan Murray predicted his team would be a contender in the Eastern Conference, thus implying they should be in the Stanley Cup conversation.

Most observers disagreed — settling on a 4-8 playoff spot — while a handful of prominent publications (Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News among them) saw Ottawa outside the playoff picture altogether.

So what do we know at this still-early point in the season? One thing is for sure: The Senators are not a Stanley Cup “contender” in the classical sense.

The Philadelphia Flyers? Contender. The Vancouver Canucks? Contender. The Boston Bruins? Contender. The Washington Capitals? Contender. The Pittsburgh Penguins? Contender. Each has its own unique weakness, but there’s no denying they are powerhouses.

Of course, the common thread among those teams is that the Senators have lost to all of them them already this year, with their lone win coming against the Bruins last Saturday.

Who have the Senators beaten? Teams like the Hurricanes, the Islanders, the Leafs, the Thrashers and the Panthers. They’ve also beaten once and lost twice to the Montreal Canadiens, who I’m still convinced will be fighting for their playoff lives in March.

I’m not pointing this out to suggest the Senators belong with those lower-tier teams or take away from those victories. A point is a point. My point is that they’re doing what’s expected of them — they’re average.

They’re knocking off teams below them in the standings and losing to the ones above them. They aren’t stellar at scoring goals (24th) or keeping them out of their own net (19th). Both their power play and penalty kill are respectable, but not spectacular.

And maybe that’s all coach Cory Clouston and general manager Bryan Murray need from them at this point. Sure it would be nice to blow teams away all winter and build some excitement ahead of the playoffs, but it doesn’t really matter as long as the team is included in those playoffs.

As the Philadelphia Flyers — the latest “contender” to curb stomp the Senators — showed by qualifying for the postseason on the final day of the 2009-2010 schedule and cruising all the way to the final, anything can happen come springtime.

So maybe the Senators are a contender after all.

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