Having lost seven consecutive games for the first time since the Cory Clouston led Senators dropped 11 straight games between January 14th and February 9th of last season, if the Senators are serious about their playoff aspirations as an organization, they're going to have figure things out and soon.
Currently sitting in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, given their recent level of play, Ottawa's grip on the final playoff seed is more precarious than Randy Cunneyworth's chance of being retained as the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
In fact, things are so bad these days that Jim O'Brien, that 2007 first round pick that Bryan Murray has never been willing to take credit for, is now getting a regular shift at Bobby Butler's expense.1
Thanks to this recent bout of mediocrity, the Senators has seen the points cushion that they had built up during a ridiculously hot stretch that lasted from December 13th through January 19th. In the 19 games that were played during this period, the Senators posted an impressive 14-3-2 record.
Although, looking at Ottawa's season on paper, it's been nothing but a series of hot and cold stretches.
- October 7th through October 18th: 1-5-0
- October 20th through October 30th: 6-0-0
- November 1st through November 11th: 0-4-1
- November 12th through November 29th: 5-1-1
- December 1st through December 10th: 1-3-2
- December 13th through January 19th: 14-3-2
- January 21st through February 7th: 0-6-1
As you can see from the cumulative graph, the Senators' offence has been in a relatively steady decline since the conclusion of their 40th game of the season. With the team struggling to outshoot and outchance their opponents, if the team cannot turn things around quickly, they run the risk of fulfilling Allen Panzeri's proclamation that it would take a collapse of Boston Red Sox proportions for this team to miss the playoffs.
Keeping with the tradition of using James Mirtle's suggestion that it will likely take 93 points for a team in the Eastern Conference, the Senators are going to need 32 points in their 26 remaining games to give themselves a legitimate opportunity to reach the postseason. In other words, the Senators have to win at close to a .615 clip to have a shot.
Relative to this rate, here's how Ottawa's competition stacks up:
- Toronto needs 31 points in 28 games (.553). Of these remaining games, 15 are on the road.
- New Jersey needs 28 points in 29 games (.483). Of these remaining games, 14 are on the road.
- Washington needs 33 points in 29 games (.569). Of these remaining games, 15 are on the road.
- Florida needs 33 points in 30 games (.550). Of these remaining games, 13 are on the road.
Now let's take a look at the strength of their remaining schedules:
|Home Winning %||Road Winning %||Opponent Combined Winning %||Opponent Winning % at Home||Opponent Winning % on Road|
Considering that Ottawa's likely competing with Florida and Washington for that eighth and final playoff spot, the fact that the ninth place Panthers have the easiest schedule heading down the stretch is disconcerting. It's even more so, after we account for the fact that they play seventeen of their remaining games at the home at the BankAtlantic Center against opponents that have a combined road win percentage of .477.
Ottawa's in tough and they have no one but themselves to blame. Too often of late, the team is getting outshot and outchanced. Looking back at the graph, it paints an interesting picture: Ottawa has been outshot in 32 of their 56 games and have been outchanced in 34.
Even when the team was winning its share of games, many (including myself) wanted to see how this team would handle itself when the importance of the games and the pressure increased. For a team that wins approximately 52-percent of their games by one goal, their margin for error is so small. If they have any hopes of relieving some of the expectations and pressures that the fans, media and peers are placing upon them, they're going to have to stop falling behind early in games.
As Allen Panzeri noted in the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa has now given up the first goal in six of their past seven games and they've been outscored in the first period by 25 goals (32 goals for and 57 goals against).
If this trend continues, the Senators aren't going to just be falling behind early, they're going to be falling out of the playoff picture for good.
1 Could not find the link but in one interview Murray infamously refers to the 2008 Draft as his regime's 'first real draft'.
2 If you're on Twitter, don't hesitate to give @Wham_City a follow. It's well worth your while.
Given that O'Brien has "AHL Lifer" pasted on his forehead, no wonder Murray doesn't want to take credit for drafting him. Dude will never be an NHL regular unless the league somehow expands to 45 teams.
One of the troubles we face is that players like Michalek and Kuba have returned to earth after strong starts. Ditto for Karlsson and Cowen, both of whom have looked recently like what they are - young guys still finding their way in the NHL. Put simply, this team was overachieving for a while, and I'm afraid that what we see now is a little closer to what this team truly is, at least right now.
I would actually like to see the Sens be sellers at the deadline - send a few veterans packing for picks and prospects. Ottawa would look like an attractive place to go fishing for veteran help, and to the extent we can encourage a team to overpay, that would be great. The problem is that hosting playoff games is VERY profitable, which is why teams on the bubble never want to be sellers. You have to be stapled to the bottom of the standings before you can convince your owner that, sadly, the $1.5 million to $2 million a night in pure profit from home playoff games just isn't in the cards this year.