After Ottawa had started the season at a torrid pace, recent losses to Tampa and Atlanta have helped return the Senators back to the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. While there's an old adage in sports that says good teams are able to overcome long odds and find ways to win, Ottawa's been unable to overcome the concurrent absences of their best defenceman, center and goalie.
Fortunately for the organization, Pascal Leclaire has already returned to the lineup after his bout with the flu and Jason Spezza has returned back to practice with the club. Anton Volchenkov will be out for another ten to fourteen days, but the prognosis is a lot better than the originally projected four to six weeks. As each of these players makes their way back into the lineup, I reason that the Senators can return to the levels of success that they had achieved early on.
Because of Cory Clouston's system.By employing an aggressive forechecking system that encourages puck pursuit, the Senators' forwards are doing an exceptional job of pressuring the puck early, forcing defencemen into making poor reads and decisions that often result in turnovers in the neutral zone. The proof is in the giveaway and takeaway numbers exhibited by the Ottawa forwards.
Here's a list of the forwards and their numbers. The first number will indicate their number of giveaways and the second number will represent their takeaways. All stats are courtesy of NHL.com.
- Daniel Alfredsson: 8, 11
- Jonathan Cheechoo: 5, 5
- Mike Fisher: 4, 7
- Nick Foligno: 1, 10
- Chris Kelly: 4, 3
- Alexei Kovalev: 8, 2
- Milan Michalek: 1, 9
- Chris Neil: 1, 6
- Jarkko Ruutu: 0, 5
- Jason Spezza: 9, 12
- Shean Donovan: 1, 0
- Peter Regin: 3, 4
- Ryan Shannon: 1, 3
- Total: 46 Giveaways, 77 Takeaways
I'm not saying these statistics are the be all and end all of defensive statistics, however, I think there's a lot to be said for the aforementioned results. Albeit, it's still early but there is some statistical progression that's reflective of Jason Spezza's improvement as a defensive player. By comparison, in 2007-08, he had 96 giveways and 44 takeaways. And in 2008-09, he had a ratio of 81-73. If he keeps up his current pace, he'll have his first positive turnover differential ever as a player.
While Kovalev's struggles to find his offensive niche, he'll have to do a little bit more on the defensive side of the puck to rid himself of his stereotypical Russian image. Mind you, he wasn't brought in here to reduce the number of goals scored against the club.
Michalek and Foligno are beasts who have combined for 20 takeaways and 2 giveaways.
Regardless of how much Gord Wilson smatters Chris Kelly's hockey IQ, Kelly has to improve. For a checking line center pulling down the kind of coin that he does, he needs to be more consistent and drastically improve upon his 38% success rate on faceoffs.
Now if only Clouston could fix the power play...