For all the good it did the Ottawa Senators to be picked as Cup favourites in the early-to-mid 2000s, maybe they should embrace the fact hockey prognosticators are undervaluing them once again this year.
Last season, I couldn’t find a single “expert” who had Ottawa making the playoffs, let alone challenging for the division. In Vegas, oddsmakers set the over/under on their season points at about 86.5, which would have put them well short of a berth.
Maybe that’s why I was almost laughed out of the morning skate when I picked them to finish 4th (they wound up 5th) prior to the regular season. To be fair, the Senators were coming off a poor campaign and were still adjusting to a new coach. Maybe that came into play.
But what explains The Hockey News’s decision to bump the Senators all the way down to 10th place now?
According to the magazine: “…without any other off-season moves to address a shaky situation in goal, however, it will be a touch-and-go year in Canada’s capital. Without an extravagant 11-game winning streak in 2009-10, the Sens wouldn’t have finished as high as they did and a run like that can’t be expected again.”
The “extravagant winning streak” comment is puzzling for two reasons. First, there are statistical anomalies in sports all the time and nothing suggests the Senators couldn’t have piled up as many wins in a more disjointed fashion. In fact, they were one of the streakiest teams in the league last season and had several lengthy losing skids as well.
Peruse the team’s record book and you’ll see that Brian Elliott set new marks for consecutive wins (breaking his own standard set the year before) and consecutive road wins during the run. A couple lousy playoff outings have some doubting his ability to be the No. 1 guy, but there are at least a handful of teams that would love to have the Senators’ “shaky” goaltending situation.
Also this week, Sports Illustrated dropped Ottawa from 13th to 21st in its offseason power rankings — this after the team added arguably the best puck-moving defenceman in the game today.
Here’s why I’ll be picking Ottawa fourth again this season, and won’t be surprised if they chase down the Bruins to take the whole Northeast Division.
1. The Gonchar effect: For the past couple of years, every time you asked Bryan Murray what his team needed, he would invariably respond: “A puck-moving defenceman.” It was like the sun rising or Lindsay Lohan getting plastered — you could always count on it. Sergei Gonchar should change the conversation. Is he old? In hockey terms, yes. Does he get hurt? Yes. But the surprise emergence of Erik Karlsson as a top-line threat (12 points in his last 10 regular season games, six points in six playoff games), provides some insurance there. Suddently the Senators’ weakest link — the power play — could become a strong suit.
2. Goalie-go-round: Elliott doesn’t get enough credit for helping stabilize the Senators over the the past couple years. The crease was in complete disarray when he took over, and all he’s done since is post a career record of 46-26-7 with a 2.62 GAA and .907 save percentage. Not too shabby. Now, his recent playoff struggles have opened the door to Pascal Leclaire once again, but that may not be such a bad thing. Leclaire is entering the final year of his contract and will be plenty motivated to earn his next one.
3. Weak East: After Washington and New Jersey, there aren’t really any teams that blow me away. Boston will be decent and I think Tampa will be a dark horse in the 5-7 area. Philadelphia will be strong, but the Michael Leighton/Brian Boucher situation should give anyone pause (plus Cup losers often drop off the next season). Pittsburgh has incredible centres, but brutal wings. I practically had to throw a dart to pick an eighth seed, finally settling on Montreal. I have no confidence in that pick however, given it was Jaroslav Halak who got the Habs into the playoffs last season. Point is, seeds 3-8 will be a free-for-all this year.
I want to know what you think though. Where are you picking the Senators to finish? Will they make or miss the playoffs?