The Sens currently sit 8th in the Eastern Conference with a 3-3-2 record and a goal differential of -3. This is a tad disappointing given how well they played last season despite the injuries. Their puck possession play, which had been one of the team's strengths under Paul MacLean, isn't there to fall back on right now (apart from the MacArthur-Turris-Ryan/Conacher).
Here are a few things that I've noticed that could be the cause of their slow start:
The Sens have been averaging a league-worst 39.4 shots against per game, which is 3.5 shots worse than the Stars, who sit 29th. The top line in particular has been bad, with Michalek and Spezza being on-ice for about 45 shots against per 60 minutes of 5on5 play, as opposed to the 2nd line who have been on for about 30 each. Imagine how much worse things would look with average to below average goaltending.
For at least a few seaons now this has been huge achilles heel in Ottawa, and fuel for conspiracy theories amongst fans. After eight games, the Sens have already been shorthanded a league-worst 44 times and are just 29th in PP opportunities. With the defensive struggles at even-strength, the team is only making things harder on themselves by taking an absurd amount of penalties. Despite getting good goaltending again this year, Ottawa has already given up seven PP goals.
The fourth line of Kassian-Pageau-Condra have been really bad, with absolutely awful possession numbers (all around 41%) and have combined for just one goal. This is a bit surprising since Condra has always been a great possession driver. Aside from sample size, other reasons for this could be playing with Matt Kassian, starting more in the defensive zone and Pageau's struggles in the face-off circle. I wouldn't be too worried about Condra's play, unless he starts doing something uncharacteristic like scoring on empty nets.
While three 5on5 goals over 8 games isn't exactly bad for a third line, Greening-Smith-Neil have been somewhat invisible and similarily also have poor possession numbers, with the three of them being under 50% on the season.
Forward depth was one of the team's strengths last year, but with a struggling bottom six MacLean does not have as many options to turn to if one of the team's top lines are having a rough go of it.
This new pairing was seen as a wildcard heading into the season due to Wiercioch playing mostly sheltered minutes in his rookie year, and Cowen's poor play last year after returning from an injury that cost him the majority of the season. So far this duo has looked rather uncomfortable together and has been a defensive liability at times. At least some of this can be attributed to Wiercioch switching sides and the two young defensemen facing more difficult opponents, and starting less often in the offensive zone. With the team's shallow blueline, I think patience is the best course for these two.
For a team with so much offensive talent, sitting 23rd in PP% with just three PP goals is somewhat underwhelming. With their poor defensive play, it will be hard to win games if the PP does not produce. To be fair, the team lost Gonchar and Alfredsson, who were key PP players from last year, so it's understandable that they haven't exactly been killing it off the bat. One source of optimism is that they sit 7th in 5on4 shot rate, which is actually a better indicator of future PP success than past PP%.
Team's Upcoming Schedule
To make matters worse, the team's next four games are against Detroit (2nd in the East), San Jose (1st in the West), Anaheim (3rd in the West) and Chicago (4th in the West).
Here's a closer look the numbers, and how the Sens stack up:
|TEAM||FenClose%||5v4 SF/60||4v5 SA/60|
|DET||49.4 (16)||51.9 (19)||51.6 (16)|
|ANA||55.0 (6)||69.6 (3)||55.1 (19)|
|SJS||60.7 (1)||76.9 (1)||48.4 (12)|
|CHI||60.6 (2)||60.0 (6)||47.1 (9)|
|OTT||48.9 (17)||58.3 (7)||58.0 (22)|
Anaheim, San Jose and Chicago are better than Ottawa in every category here, especially when it comes to puck possession. Hopefully the Sens can stop taking so many penalties because those three all have very strong power-plays as well.
The only team that Ottawa matches up fairly well with here is Detroit. Even though they're 2nd in the East, the Wings only have a goal differential of +1, with just a two-point lead over Tampa Bay and Montreal with one game in hand, and two points over Boston with two games in hand. While it's still very early in the season, their possession numbers and special teams shot rates haven't exactly been dominant, although historically they've always been a very strong possession team. This hints that Detroit may not be as good as their record shows.
I think Ottawa has a chance against Detroit, but facing Anaheim, San Jose and Chicago in a row will be a challenge. If they do win just one game over those four games, I'm sure we'll start to see more people begin to worry about the team's chances and much pressing of the panic button.
Fortunately, in the month of November, ten of the Ottawa's fourteen games are against teams who currently aren't in a playoff position, including two against Philadelphia. Furthermore, the Sens last game against Edmonton was one of the better games they played this season, despite not getting the result