The Ottawa Senators have been the feel good story of the NHL in 2017. Will it have a Hollywood ending?
Entering the 2016-17 NHL season, the Ottawa Senators were seen as fringe playoff contenders. They had a new coach in Guy Boucher and didn’t have a very eventful offseason. Their lone major move was trading center Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard. For the second time in three seasons, they’ll be going to the postseason. And once again, the Sens will be doing so as a Cinderella story.
In 2014-15, they made the playoffs thanks to some incredible goaltending by Andrew Hammond. Much like last time, this time it’s due to their goaltending. However, this year, Ottawa has a much better story to root for. Back in late October, Craig Anderson’s wife got cancer. He took a leave from the team to take care of his wife Nicholle Anderson from early December to early February. Mike Condon did an excellent job replacing him. The Senators rallied around Anderson to make the playoffs.
While their starting goalie played the lead role, the supporting cast is strong as well. Erik Karlsson finds himself in the Norris Trophy conversation. Though his numbers are slightly down from his historic 2015-16 season, his overall game has improved exponentially. Karlsson ranks second among all defensemen in points. Kyle Turris, coming off numerous injures, leads the Ottawa Senators in goals. Mike Hoffman, Zach Smith, Brassard, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel provide the team with valuable forward depth.
Boucher’s system has Ottawa utilizing a completely different style of play. Last season, they were more offensively inclined. This season, Boucher has them running his infamous trap. Ottawa ranks in the top 10 in fewest goals allowed, though they also rank in the bottom 10 in goals scored. Boucher is no stranger to upsets in the postseason, so don’t count the Senators out.
Why They Can Win
The Ottawa Senators could be a Stanley Cup dark horse. Their offense is opportunistic, taking advantage of teams’ mistakes. Karlsson is capable of doing superhuman things and carrying his team for an extended period of time. Brassard is no stranger to the postseason, serving as a key cog in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the New York Rangers.
Their trap has given certain teams trouble. Specifically, they matchup well against the Washington Capitals. Few teams were able to stifle them consistently. The Senators were one of them, holding them to under three goals in each game. In three games, the Caps scored just three goals.
They also match up very well against the Boston Bruins, who they are projected to face. Ottawa won each of its four games against them. Moreover, they won two of their three games against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Senators will be in the Atlantic Division bracket, which is much easier than the Metropolitan Division bracket.
Why They Won’t Win
Digging deeper into the Ottawa Senators’ numbers, the odds are against them. They rank 20th in the NHL in even strength goals for percentage. Five on five usually dictates who wins games in the playoffs. Dominating teams at even strength is extremely important. The Senators simply don’t do it.
Ottawa ranks 23rd in even strength CorsiFor percentage, which shows they get outshot at even strength. Recent Stanley Cup champions have shown to be either extremely dominant at even strength or they possess a lot of elite talent. The Ottawa Senators don’t fit either of those descriptions.
Anderson will dictate how far they go in the postseason. Karlsson is an incredible player and arguably the best defenseman in the NHL. However, he can’t do everything. Anderson can cover for a lot of Ottawa’s flaws, which is something the Senators captain isn’t in a position to do. He’s carried the team for extended stretches during the season. Anderson’s .926 save percentage ranks fourth in the league among goalies with at least 20 starts. He carries the keys to Ottawa’s playoff success. If Anderson can remain the foundation of their defense, the Senators could make an extended playoff run. However, without his excellence, Ottawa is doomed.
The Senators have a good chance of making out of the first round. As the second seed in the Atlantic Division, they get to face the Bruins. Ottawa matches up very well against them, so a series win should be expected. However, they might be in trouble in the second round. The Montreal Canadiens have their number this season, scoring 17 goals against them in five games. Moreover, the New York Rangers split their season series with the Senators. While a deep playoff run is unlikely, Anderson and Karlsson make it at least feasible, albeit unlikely.