Consistently Inconsistent

Just when you think the Senators season had turned the corner with a comeback win vs. Boston, a dispiriting loss to a Marian Gaborik-less Columbus Blue Jackets dispirits us all…so dispiriting.

Despite there being a number of positive takeaways over the past number of games, like the Senators winning four of their past six and allowing a paltry 21 shots to Columbus – the eighth lowest total in the 150 regular season games that Paul MacLean has been behind the bench for — people aren’t happy because of Sunday's result – a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jackets. (In retrospect, perhaps the organization should have waited until the conclusion of the Columbus game to announce news of the team’s Heritage Classic jersey reveal on November 28th. Cue the masses saying, "20/20 hindsight, revisionist!")

No one is happy with the current state of the Ottawa Senators. Fans and prognosticators expected more from this team and Senators GM Bryan Murray does too.

Addressing the question on whether he would be prepared to make a move if this team continued to struggle last week on TSN 1200, Murray said:

“Well, I certainly like our team. I was disappointed as everyone was that we weren’t winning games. I mean, we were close some nights and terrible other nights and you wonder if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but I think the group is a good group. I think we’ve got some real talent. I think we’ve got some big guys. I think we played fairly physical when we had to. I think last night, we showed that with urgency, it was there. We had guys sticking up for each other. We don’t necessarily tell them that they have to go fight, but having four fights in the game certainly set a tone for the attitude. There’s no question about that, but I say all of that, and you have to be on the phone regularly here in this business and see what teams are looking to do and be part of it, if you can. So I’ll continue to look, but as I say, I certainly like the group and I like the depth. And we’ve got a few kids in the minors that we know can come up, but it’s about winning right now, so we’re going to try to do what we have to do to win.”

For those of you who were under the impression that the Sens were still rebuilding following the organization’s decision to move three future assets for two guaranteed years of Bobby Ryan, take note. The Sens are in it to win.

Let that marinate for a second.

Through almost a quarter of this NHL season, the Sens have not won consistently and although others believe their success comes when they’re playing a more physical brand of hockey, it probably has more to do with the fact that the Ottawa Senators have become a horrifically bad puck possession team and everyone is noticing.

Bloggers (here, here, here) have taken note. Ottawa media will catch on eventually and Craig Custance had a fantastic statistic in his latest article for ESPN Insider (behind a paywall):

I loved the Senators. They’re the pesky Sens. At least they used to be the pesky Sens. I’m not sure what this group is. Maybe they miss Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar more than we thought they might. Maybe it’s hard to be pesky for a whole 82-game season. What’s most concerning is their puck possession stats. Last season, there wasn’t a team that finished with more than Ottawa’s 1,591 shots on goal. This year, they’re at No. 14 overall.

According to ExtraSkater, their Corsi-for percentage (which measures the percentage of shots going in a team's favor) is 48.6 percent, which puts them at No. 22 in the league. They’re wasting a strong start from Bobby Ryan (10 goals, 10 assists), who isn’t necessarily known for starting strong, and goalie Craig Anderson hasn’t been his usual self (.904 save percentage). Maybe the loss to the Blue Jackets will serve as a bit of a wake-up call. These Senators need to quickly regain the identity that made them so successful last season, when they found ways to win with everybody hurt, because inconsistent and unpredictable is no way to go through an 82-game season. 

Describing the team’s erratic play after the Columbus game, Paul McLean said, “At some point in time, when you get to 30 (games), you are what you are. If this is what we are, as an inconsistent group, it's not going to be much fun.”

No, it’s not fun.

It’s not fun for the players and it’s certainly not fun for the fans. Ottawa has become excruciatingly difficult to watch on television. Hell, even the commercial breaks are terrible because of the realization that Fall Out Boy is laughing all the way to the bank thanks to the royalties rolling in from Lighting Mups. (As an aside, if the Sens want to sell more tickets, they should market the CTC has a Mup Free Zone- encouraging fans to come watch a game live instead.)

Speaking to reporters at yesterday morning’s skate, the message is more of the same.

MacLean elaborated on this inconsistency by blaming the team’s discipline and inability to get out of their defensive end.

“Our issue has been playing too much in our zone and the penalties that we take is giving up goals, giving up shots by playing in our end of the rink. When we're playing in the other team's end it usually goes pretty good for us. Now, we haven't scored — two of our last home games we scored one goal so obviously we haven't scored enough, but in the big picture over 20 games we've scored enough to win.”

According to Quanthockey.com, the Senators have scored on 9.416% of their shots this season – good enough for the 9th best rate in the NHL. For what it’s worth, the league average is 8.79%. And for what it’s worth, Extraskater.com puts their 5v5 shooting percentage at 9.9%, the third highest rate in league.

Should Ottawa’s possession problems continue and either of these rates regress to league norms, the Senators could be in serious trouble here.

Last week, TSN’s Bob McKenzie indicated during a Sens pregame that the organization was not only looking for a defenceman (something Elliotte Friedman echoed), but someone who could also play with Spezza.

 “I don’t think there’s any question that they’re looking for a defencemen. They’re also, I think, looking for a winger that maybe can play with Jason Spezza. But, keep in mind, anything that happens in Ottawa right now comes back with a lot of financial concerns and staying on budget and making sure that you’re not pumping the budget up too high. So, we’ll see where all that goes.”

It’s no secret that Bryan Murray’s best deals have been the ones in which he sold an overvalued asset (ie. the returns for vets like Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher or a prospect like David Rundblad) for futures or an undervalued talent like Kyle Turris. (Who can ever forget the media’s cautionary tales about Kyle Turris’ character and baggage?)

So it begs the question, if the Senators are actively pursuing a deal to remedy their issues, what is the likelihood that they’re going to be able to find a solution at an affordable rate?

It’s probably pretty small, and it may force the team to ride things out and continue to look for internal solutions instead.

I mean, when it's being reported that the Senators have looked into the possibility of bringing Martin Havlat and a contract that carries a $5 million cap hit through next season, internal solutions don't seem to look that bad.

In a worst case scenario given the time of year, the Sens could overpay for a short-term solution like Havlat. And I hate to say it, but maybe this is one instance where Ottawa’s internal budget restrictions could save the Sens from themselves.

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