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The 6th Sens’ Review of the 2011/12 Season

Having left town for a week shortly after Ottawa’s first round exit in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, I never really had an opportunity to pen a review of the 2011/12 Ottawa Senators season…

… until now. (What would you have me do? Write a one sentence blog post linking to Alfie’s Q&A session with the IIHF instead? Psssssh, come on.)

So grab yourself a banana daiquiri from Bert’s Bar and ‘buckle up because we’re going all the way’ through the unexpected success that accompanied this 2011/12 Senators season. All 5,000+ words of it…

Bryan Murray Confronts the Rebuild Like It’s Jim Fox 

Okay, so you pundits thought this rebuild was going to be in the same vein as what perpetual doormats like the Edmonton Oilers have done in years past.

Fools!

Instead of finishing the season as one the popularly predicted 12th to 15th seeds, the Senators managed to squeak into the playoffs thanks to the hiring of head coach Paul MacLean and a few aggressive trades made by GM Bryan Murray.

Back in October, it was everyone’s belief that this year’s retooling would be limited to playing out the clock and wishfully hoping that Sergei Gonchar and/or Filip Kuba, the bane of Don Brennan’s existence, could accrue enough value to be moved at this year’s Trade Deadline. Instead, at the earnest encouragement of some asshole blogger on the Interwebs, Murray traded a 2012 second round pick and the highly regarded David Rundblad to the Phoenix Coyotes for Kyle Turris. Thanks to the 22-year old center’s contractual demands – an orchestrated process designed to help facilitate a trade and get him away from a coach and organization that wasn’t interested in developing players – the hockeyocracy, bloggers and traditional media pissed on Turris’ reputation; labeling him as a selfish malcontent whose lack of production and alleged ‘bad attitude’ should not be welcomed on a rebuilding Senators team.

Thankfully, all concerns were put to bed when Turris assumed the role of the second line center and developed some chemistry with Daniel Alfredsson. Not only did he provide the team with some much needed depth down the middle and secondary scoring, his understated defensive aptitude actually enabled head coach Paul MacLean to use his line regularly against the opposition’s best forwards. Better still, his overtime snipe over Lundqvist’s glove provided one of this season’s most memorable moments.

With the center position accounted for, Murray eventually moved a 2013 second round pick to the St. Louis Blues for goaltending prospect Ben Bishop. Thanks to Brian Elliott’s surprising play and a contractual nuance that would make him an unrestricted free agent if he didn’t fulfill a particular games played threshold, the 6’10” goaltender joined Ottawa’s ranks and provided a stabilizing presence as Craig Anderson recovered from a fowl incident that forced him to miss a number of important games down the stretch.

It was a good year for Murray and it’s no coincidence that this organization experienced success on the ice. For the first time in his career in Ottawa, he was finally targeting underappreciated young players with upside over proven names who were already on the downside of their careers.

When trading the underappreciated Brian Lee for Matt Gilroy at the NHL trade deadline can be considered as your worst move of the season, you’re obviously doing something right.

Even in the wake of the failed Nikita Filatov experiment, you can understand its context and appreciate management’s willingness to gamble on him. Unfortunately, it did come at a price: the cost of a third round pick may prove to be inconsequential, but the stigma of losing a trade to Scott Howson will haunt Murray forever.

We Had the Lowest of Expectations

Much like this season’s Game of Thrones, Ottawa’s 2011/12 season deviated from its script.

Pundits, bloggers, experts, it didn’t matter what the medium was, everyone was seemingly picking the Senators to finish out of the playoff picture and flirt with a place in the standings that could net them a lottery pick.

Even Senators brass was non-committal in their assessment of the team’s worth. Rather than give some definitive proclamation about which place in the standings they believed their constructed roster could attain, management preferred to hedge around such lines of interview questioning. Instead, they opted to rely on vacuous statements like, “Well, we thought we would be competitive.”

Unburdened by the weight of lofty expectations, the lack of external pressure placed on the organization by the fans or media was refreshing. For years, there had been this prevailing sentiment that a Canadian city like Ottawa would never fully embrace a rebuild; that in order to draw fans to ScotiaBank Place, the organization had to be a winner. Well, in a shocking development, it turns out that people only want to watch entertaining hockey.

Who knew?

Free Agent Acquisitions

For a rebuilding or retooling team, management refused to spend frivolously in free agency; recognizing that for where the organization was in its development, the value of most unrestricted players will not be there unless it’s a short-term deal.

The additions of unrestricted free agents like Zenon Konopka and Alex Auld weren’t necessarily the sexiest moves of the offseason, but both were necessary evils. While spectacularly shittacular, Auld’s presence afforded the organization the opportunity and time to keep Robin Lehner in the AHL – allowing the young goaltender to play in more games, mature as a professional and possibly even offer him a lesson in humility. Conversely, Konopka may lack for puck skills and skating ability, but his faceoff prowess allowed head coach Paul MacLean to utilize Jason Spezza in a more efficient manner than his predecessor.

‘Stache Power

Before Paul MacLean, the closest thing that the Senators organization came to having moustache power was Kaspars Daugavins’ offer of free moustache rides to the women of Binghamton. Combined with his infamous wide-eyed look whenever he would answer a beat writer’s question, Paul MacLean’s presence and affable nature was a breath of fresh air.

In the months that followed MacLean’s hire, fans were inundated with reminders about the importance of communication whenever the topic of the team’s unexpected success was broached.

In one interview on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, Bryan Murray had this to say about MacLean:

“I believe that the players are the show – the important thing. You have to show that you care for them. That you trust them. That you will communicate with them. Communication to me means listening as much as talking at times. Paul MacLean has those characteristics. He’s a guy who is a real people person. He’s a fun guy to be around. He’s strict. He pushes when he has to but he was a player and knows that to get the best out of people, you have to allow them to be who they are. I like that about him. I think it’s a little bit of a contrast to what we had. I think with Dave Cameron and Mark Reeds coming in to help, I think we’ve got a very, very solid coaching staff with good people and people who have been around good players.”

And just like that, Murray twisted the dagger. As much as it was meant as a compliment to the team’s new head coach, it was equally as much of a condemnation of the Cory Clouston’s tenure here in the nation’s capital.  It’s almost hard to believe that at one point, most people believed that the worst part about Clouston was his overreliance on pastel colored shirts and ties.

Besides the communication part, MacLean excelled in his utilization of his personnel. From recognizing that Chris Phillips is no longer capable of playing top four minutes against the oppositions best forwards to realizing that it may be in the offense’s best interests to put the team’s dynamic offensive defenceman on the ice with the team’s best offensive forwards while at even strength, to understanding that Alex Auld is a $1 million cheerleader, MacLean got the most out of the group that he had and earned himself a nomination as one of the league’s Jack Adams Trophy finalists.

Heritage Sweaters

>After a few teasers designed to pique the interest of its fans, the Senators ‘heritage’ sweater leaked onto the Interwebs (via Icethetics) prior to the organization’s official release date at their October 1st Puck Drop event. Thanks to a mix up of release dates, the Buffalo Sabres’ team store at the First Niagara Center (formerly HSBC Arena) prematurely began selling the Premier version of the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs alternate jerseys.

Designed by Le Collectif’s Jacob Barrette, the jersey was the creation of a Senators fan and graphic designer whose work came to fruition thanks to vast amount of fan support from the various online messageboards and blogs.

It’s safe to that for the first time in years, the Senators actually had a jersey that fans could be proud of. I’m still pining for a return to the original 2-D logo, but in the meantime, the ‘heritage’ sweater will have to suffice.

Karlsson Breaking Records and Taking Names

If someone could criticize Erik Karlsson’s season, it’d have to start with his weak Movember effort before culminating with a disappointing performance – with the exception of an unbelievable Game Two effort — in the team’s first round playoff series versus the Rangers. During the rest of his time, Karlsson put together the greatest statistical seasons that a Senators defenceman has ever had. (My apologies to Tom Preissing and his +40 plus/minus rating from the 2006/07 season.)

In the February 26th game versus the New York Islanders, Karlsson broke Norm MacIver’s 1992/93 63 point record and established a new Senators franchise mark for points by a defenceman by assisting on a Milan Michalek goal. At the conclusion of the season, the 21-year old led the league with 19 goals (tied with Shea Weber) and 78 points by a defenceman; registering 25 more points than the two players, Brian Campbell and Dustin Byfuglien, who finished tied for second in defenceman scoring. To put emphasize how significant Karlsson’s production was relative to his age, he had the third most productive season in NHL history for a 21-year old blueliner.

Even more impressive, he did it in a season in which league scoring was trending down; earning himself enough Professional Hockey Writers Association votes to qualify as a finalist for the Norris Trophy – an award that is given to the defenceman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.

Yet, despite these accomplishments that overshadowed his defensive capabilities, a certain sect of the hockeyocracy did their best to discredit his Norris Trophy candidacy by alluding to the number of shorthanded minutes that he played and how his peers – Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara – had more blocked shots and more hits. St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock even tried to napalm Karlsson’s credibility by indirectly referring to Karlsson as an ‘offenseman’ – a dickheaded manoeuvre designed to undermine Karlsson and shed light on Alex Pietrangelo’s performance. Oddly enough, other Norris Trophy candidates weren’t subject to the same levels of scrutiny. With all due respect to Filip Kuba, neither Chara nor Weber had their seasons criticized because they played with high quality defensive partners (cough) (cough) Ryan Suter (cough) (cough) and better teammates.

Second Line Center Hole

After tallying a goal and two assists in his first four games of the season, Peter Regin looked like he was well on his way to fulfilling some of the promise that he had shown in earlier seasons. His blend of puck-possession skills and defensive aptitude had earned him Paul MacLean’s trust and as such, he was given the first opportunity to play as the team’s second line center.

Unfortunately for him, after a minute and a half of ice-time in his fifth game versus the Winnipeg Jets, Regin re-injured his shoulder that he had surgically repaired in the offseason – opening the door for Stephane Da Costa – aka Adam Oates lite – to take his spot. When Da Costa’s play slipped, it helped necessitate the trade for Kyle Turris and from that moment on, the Senators cruised to a 29-17-6 record.

As impending restricted free agent, there was some skepticism that Ottawa would even qualify Regin with a contract offer because of his recurring shoulder problems. However, by agreeing to a one-way, one-year contract worth a paltry salary of $800k, the Senators at the very least will be able to afford Regin the opportunity to increase his value and hopefully give the organization the roster flexibility to parlay Regin or other depth for an asset that better suits the organization’s needs.

Phillips Plays in 1000th Game and Mike Fisher Returns

After an absolutely dreadful 2010/11 in which he posted a miserable line of 1 goal, 9 points and a plus/minus of -35, last season easily could have been his last in a Senators uniform, a resurgent (or is it a protected?) Chris Phillips bounced back nicely by playing almost exclusively on the team’s third defensive pairing and no longer being relied upon to shut down the opposition’s best forwards.

In what can only be considered a ‘turn back the clock’ or a ‘where the hell has this been?’ performance, a noticeably invigorated Phillips scored two-goals in what marked his 1000th career regular season game on February 9th versus the Nashville Predators. Incidentally, it coincided with the return of the affable Mike Fisher. Between Phillips’ effort and the tribute video dedicated to Fish, this game was easily one of the most memorable and misty eyed home games at ScotiaBank Place this season.

Pinkie and the (Where Was Your) Brain?

In the wee hours of the February 22nd night following their 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals, goaltender Craig Anderson must have had some kind of hankering for protein. Nothing else explains the sheer illogicality in using an ice pick to separate some pieces of frozen chicken, because in that situation, what could possibly go wrong?

One emergency trip to the ER and a successful surgery to repair a severed pinkie tendon later, the injury actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. Without any trust in Alex Auld to play in meaningful games down the stretch, Paul MacLean was relying exclusively upon Anderson and the injury allowed him to rest his number one goaltender and ensure that he was fresh for the playoffs. As Robin Lehner’s AHL season was marred by injuries and inconsistent play that naturally accompanies any rookie’s sophomore professional season, the injury to Anderson helped expose the organization’s vulnerability and depth. Less than five days after Anderson’s injury, Ottawa traded a 2013 second round to the Blues in exchange for goaltending prospect Ben Bishop. Not only did Bishop provide a steadying presence between the pipes until Anderson returned, his size proved to be a constant source of material for hockey broadcasters. In the days that followed the trade, Bishop’s height turned into one giant fish tale. He seemed to grow another inch every day.

Stuffing the Ballot Box

How would you like to be Sergei Gonchar, the only player on the NHL All-Star Game ballot not to be voted in by Senators fans?

With Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek being voted in, it opened the doors for fans to bemoan the process itself… because as we all know, inclusion in the All-Star Game has always been a meritocratic process!
 

The game itself proved to be the perfect platform to showcase how much Alfie meant to the City of Ottawa. From being named as one of the captains to scoring two goals and addressing his playing future with Elliotte Friedman at the conclusion of the game, the All-Star weekend was all about Alfie with a few “Suck It Phaneufs” and other Leaf harrassments mixed in.

New HD Scoreboard

After years of complaints, plans for the long awaited and much anticipated new scoreboard were finally announced at a press conference on December 16th. The new Bell HD scoreboard would replace the standard definition scoreboard that had become more outdated than North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage. (Topical!)

Installed in time for the 2012 NHL All-Star Game, the new HD scoreboard increased its predecessor’s primary screen size by 441-percent, its total viewing area by 723-percent and featured a total LED viewing area of 2170 square feet. Thanks to the new scoreboard being stricken from the list of things that people in this city complain about, emphasis on old memes like how shitty the location of the arena or the cottage tvs in the pressbox could be renewed.

“Jason Spezza & The Sick Mitts playing at Zaphod Beeblebrox this Friday.” ~ Jay Onrait, TSN Sportscenter, March 27th, 2012

With just under three minutes left to play in the second period of a 2-2 tie against Winnipeg, Erik Karlsson skates to his blueline before deferring to a streaking Jason Spezza down the right wing side. The rest is pure magic…

Was This Alfredsson’s Last Season?

After a back injury affected his nerves and sapped him of the leg strength that he needed to maintain his skating ability, Alfie flirted with rehab before ultimately shutting himself down and opting for offseason surgery. At his age and with no certainty as to how his respond to the procedure, the possibility that this could be Alfredsson’s last season loomed over the organization. It’s just that many of us chose not to acknowledge it; preferring instead to use whatever coping mechanisms we had to repress any such thought. Booze. Repression. Choosing not to talk about the unthinkable. Punching any individual in the solarplexis who dare whisper the words ‘Alfie’ and ‘retirement’ within the same sentence. This was life as a Sens fan. Whether it’s next season or this one, we know his NHL playing career is drawing to a close. We just don’t want to admit it.

Alas, there are a number of compelling reasons as to why this campaign could be Alfie’s last: he sustained two concussions this season; the 2012 All-Star Game in Ottawa served as a three-day Alfie love-in; he has one year left on a contract that is set to pay him one million ‘real’ dollars; the achievement of significant milestones like his 400th career NHL goal…

… and the possibility of a work stoppage when the CBA expires before the start of the next season.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to avoid trying to ascertain how or whether Alfie’s participation in the IIHF World Championships will impact his retirement decision and pull for Alfredsson to win the league’s Masterton Trophy.

Chris Neil Net Front Presence

Upon his arrival in training camp in the fall, one of the things that Chris Neil had a mind to do was talk to a few media types about his desire to earn some power play minutes. Through his willingness to go to the high-traffic areas around the blue paint, Neil wanted to prove that he could be a very, very, very poor man’s version of Tomas Holmstrom.

There’s something to be said about a player’s enthusiasm for absorbing punishment and paying the price to stand in front of the opposition’s goal, but at times it was excruciating to watch Neil average 1:42 of power play time per game and fail to effectively contribute while playing with the puck. Perhaps another more skilled player like Nick Foligno could have fulfilled the same role while being able to contribute more offensively. Albeit, with the inordinate number of goaltender interference penalties that he took, maybe it was a prudent risk management strategy for Paul MacLean to save Foligno from himself.

To Neil’s credit however, his 13 goals and 28 points were the second best totals of his career – falling short of his 16 goal and 33 point campaign in 2005/06. He also scored an OT winner on one of those goal mouth scrambles in game two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals that led to one of my favorite Dave Schreiber goal calls ever.


Calder Cup Grads Impress

While much of the early preseason dialogue was spent debating the merits of returning Mika Zibanejad to Djurgarden of the SEL rather than developing him in Ottawa and subsequently burning a year off of his ELC, the fanfare for players like Colin Greening, Zack Smith and Erik Condra paled in comparison.

And rightfully so, being 23 to 25 years of age with ceilings that probably aren’t much higher than they currently are, you can understand why the level of excitement for these players could not match that of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft’s sixth overall selection. Nevertheless, you cannot understate the importance of their hardwork and two-way play while providing replacement level value for the expensive third line talent that they effectively replaced at a fraction of the cost.

Dubbed “the cyborg” by his teammates, Greening’s torrid start to the season turned some heads and earned him an inclusion to this season’s All-Star festivities as one of the ‘Young Stars’. Condra disclosed that he had no plans to pursue a career in medicine once his playing days are over. Although its’ great to see that Condra is focusing his attention solely on the game of hockey, it is somewhat sad to see such a good medicinal education go to waste. Sadly, the closest Condra will come to being a surgeon is if he purchases the children’s game Operation and removes the ‘water on the knee’ from Cavity Sam.

Hopefully the AnaCondra isn’t as snake bitten taking things out as he is depositing pucks into the back of the net. All joking aside, I do really like Condra’s game and hockey IQ. He does a lot of things really well, but scoring on a shorthanded breakaway just isn’t one of them. One of the season’s greatest mysteries will be how he won the shootout competition at this season’s Sens Skills.

Had you told me before the season that Ottawa would be a playoff team and that Jim O’Brien and Kaspars Daugavins would have played some prominent roles on the team’s penalty kill units and third and fourth lines, I would have thought you were off your chair. Albeit, both players deserve some praise for their play and for being dopplegangers of Bobcat Goldthwait and Jack Black’s character from Nacho Libre.

Jared Cowen enjoyed what can only be considered a successful rookie campaign.  He finished second on the team in shorthanded ice-time per game with 3:08 and found himself partnered with veteran Sergei Gonchar on the team’s second pairing. His 217 hits not only led all Senators defencemen, but it was the sixth highest total amongst all NHL rearguards. For all the praise that his physicality earned him, he also showed that was he was capable of moving the puck and joining the rush. While he may never approach the offensive totals that he put up in junior, I came away impressed with his understated offensive game.

Kurt Kleinendorst Steps Away to Pursue Other Opportunities

Interestingly, this past week, Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst announced that he would not be accepting any contract extensions from the Senators organization. I don’t want to wax poetic about the comings and goings of an AHL bench boss because they usually don’t have a tendency to stick with an organization for very long, however, in listening to the players and organization speak so highly of him, it’s difficult to ignore the job that he did in Binghamton – helping prospects and other promoted players seamlessly integrate themselves into Ottawa’s lineup.

End of an Era…

… and it seemed like just yesterday that the contracts of Jonathan Cheechoo ($1.667M), Ray Emery ($700k) and Daniel Alfredsson ($562.5K) were being bought out.

With each player’s respective buyout having officially been completed, the organization no longer has any old contracts – these three alone costing almost $2.5M — count against the team’s salary cap.

Don’t Call it a Comeback!

For a significant chunk of the season, the Senators flirted with ownership of the NHL’s stat for most victories when trailing through two periods of play. Although the Senators eventually finished fourth with a 7-27-1 mark, it led to some incredibly memorable moments.

Down 3-2 in the waning moments of their October 22nd game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, with David Rundblad and Kris Russell serving minor penalties, Paul MacLean pulled goaltender Craig Anderson for an extra attacker, giving the Senators a five-on-four advantage.

Thanks to the timeliness of the Spezza goal, it was technically an even-strength tally that required that Russell serve the rest of his penalty and it helped set the stage for this…

Amazingly, the best was yet to come. Just five days after the Columbus victory, the Senators were involved in some late game heroics. Up by a goal in the last minute of play in their October 27th game versus the Panthers, Florida’s Kris Versteeg scored with 41.7 seconds left to tie the game at three goals apiece. One offensive zone entry, one slick David Rundblad pass at the blueline, one Alfie clapper and one Foligno drive to the net later, Ottawa would send its fans home with 2.5 seconds left in regulation.

The Phenoms Debut

Much like the inclusion of Jim O’Brien and Kaspars Daugavins to the roster, the highly anticipated playoff debuts of uber-prospects like Mark Stone and Jakob Silfverberg added twists to an already entertaining and improbable run. Zibanejad could have possibly made an appearance as well, but his second concussion of the year, sustained in a practice in Binghamton, removed whatever temptation there had been to insert him into the lineup. Fortunately, if there is such a thing when discussing concussions, allowed Stone to play and with his threaded pass that set up Spezza’s game five winner fresh in our minds, training camp can’t come soon enough.

I suppose that I am sort of getting carried away here. It’s almost easy to forget that a year ago, fans (including myself) were romanticizing David Rundblad’s performance in the SEL and were instantly pegging him as a core member of the blue line. For every flash of brilliance that he demonstrated…

…it was outweighed by some poor defensive zone aptitude. One midseason trade later, he became Phoenix Coyotes property and had helped resolve Ottawa’s hole at the second line center position. In 30 AHL games with the Portland Pirates, Rundblad finished the season with 7 goals, 16 points and a plus/minus of -18.

Michalek Stays Healthy, Produces… Now what?

For the first time since he was acquired in the infamous Dany Heatley trade, Milo was able to do two things: stay healthy and consistently be productive. After two underwhelming seasons that never saw him eclipse the 34-point mark, Michalek responded with a 35-goal (career high) and 60 point effort under new head coach Paul MacLean.

I have already outlined the reasons why it could be in Ottawa’s best interests to entertain offers for their first line winger, but assuming that he’s not dealt, Michalek’s production next season will go a long way in determining how big of a step this can organization can take next season. With a number of young secondary scorers expected to learn and adjust to the NHL game in 2012/13, the Senators almost need Michalek to replicate his numbers from this season.

Carkner Fills In (Brian Boyle’s Face) Admirably

carknerboylefight

I’m not entirely sure what the future holds for Matt Carkner, but he certainly has a knack for creating memorable playoff moments. On April 22nd, 2010, he scored the triple overtime game-winning goal in game five of Ottawa’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal match up with Pittsburgh.

After being scratched for the first game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series versus the Rangers, much of the post-game conversation focused on the liberties that the Rangers, and more specifically Brian Boyle, took on Erik Karlsson.

Inserted into the lineup for game two, it didn’t take long for Carkner to get acquainted with Boyle.

Sure, we can bemoan the fact that Carkner’s actions led to a game misconduct and a 5-minute power play for the Rangers but what it represented for many Senators fans was a moment of pure cathartic bliss. Not only did the Senators build momentum by successfully killing off that penalty, but Erik Karlsson had his best game of the series – registering one goal, five hits and ten shots on goal. He was everywhere that night. The fact that Carkner’s actions also led to Brandon Dubinsky getting tossed for being the third man involved in the altercation was just the icing on the cake.

Jason Spezza, Still a Polarizing Player

Despite a 34 goal and 84 point regular season that earned him some recognition and press that kicked around the notion that his season merited Hart Trophy consideration, there were still more than a few individuals who were disappointed with his postseason performance. Even though he led the Senators in playoff scoring, his glaring penchant for turning the puck over was the root of many criticisms – his nine playoff turnovers were four more than Alfie, the player who had the team’s second highest total.

As frustrating as it was, it’s easy to forget that Spezza was grieving for the death of a friend and that he also had to deal with the arrival of a newborn baby. These human elements aside, it’s not like either of his linemates made life easier for him or could contribute when Spezza wasn’t going. According to Behind the Net, at 5v5, Spezza played alongside Milan Michalek (75.0% of the time), Colin Greening (22.4%), Chris Neil (15.3%), Daniel Alfredsson (14.3%) and Erik Condra (14.3%). With the exception of Alfredsson, none of the aforementioned names are capable of creating their own offence – which in turn, put a ton of pressure on Spezza and forced him to create things himself. Playing against one of the league’s stingiest defensive teams and an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, Spezza’s wingers had a difficult time carrying the puck and creating offensive scoring opportunities once the Senators gained entry in the offensive zone.

Conclusion:

Having taken the Eastern Conference’s number one seed to the brink of elimination, especially now that that same Rangers team is three wins away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final, well, it speaks volumes about the work ethic and maximum effort culture that has been created within that dressing room.

As much as fans or employees within the organization should want to congratulate themselves on exceeding expectations and having what can only be considered a successful season, the time for that has already passed. The circumstances and scenarios that unfolded this season will never be replicated and management should not get too complacent with this roster. There are still some glaring holes and weaknesses that need to be addressed and the organization cannot look past the long-term goal of augmenting its current young core with pieces that can give this team its biggest window of opportunity to contend for the Stanley Cup.

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