As we regroup from last night’s blown lead that resulted in another loss for the Senators and brace ourselves for the possibility that this team may not be as close we hope to turning around their season, knowing that the Senators have put the month of October behind them and are moving on to an easier stretch of games.
For as painful as it has been to watch at times, the team’s 4-6-2 record hasn’t put them too far behind the eight ball. Under any other circumstances, I’d be concerned for the team’s awareness of how much easier the schedule gets – creating some letdown in this their effort level and play.
But hey, how much worse can this team possibly be?
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013/14 Ottawa Senators!
Looking back at what went into the decisions that helped this roster, I don’t think any of the problems that we’re seeing now should come as a surprise.
For as much success as the team had without the likes of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen, and Erik Karlsson in the lineup, when the team not only puts these players into the lineup but requires them to log significant minutes against tough competition, expectations that these players would play at a level in which they were pre-injury are unfair. Just ask Erik Karlsson.
Ideally, the Senators could insulate these players until they lost the rust or started to resemble their former selves.
Defence has been the most glaring concern and I think there is this simplistic tendency to lay the blame at the feet of the defensive core without really mentioning the lack of support that they’ve been given within the defensive zone by their forwards, however, the reality of Ottawa’s financial situation created this problem.
As much as the Senators miss the minutes that Sergei Gonchar provided, it never made financial sense (or long-term sense) to re-sign Sarge at the price the Dallas Stars ultimately paid -- two years at $5 million per annum. The Sens opted instead to give his minutes to Jared Cowen while sliding Patrick Wiercioch over to his off-side.
Unfortunately, as much sense as it made to give these two young, and generally well-regarded, players the opportunity to grow and take on more responsibility, in hindsight, it was probably naïve to believe that they could do this is and immediately thrive.
What we’ve been left with is a situation in MacLean has had to give Chris Phillips more minutes in every situation and Joe Corvo – a player who essentially was only brought in to replace Gonchar’s PP minutes – is getting more even strength minutes than he probably should.
As the team approaches the magical 15 to 20 game threshold in which the team has had ample time to evaluate what it actually has, it will be interesting to see whether a ‘rebuilding’ club like Ottawa will take on salary or move some of its stockpiled young assets to improve this team in the interim.
Throw in Craig Anderson’s inevitable regression from last season’s numbers and you’re left with an exacerbating situation because every defensive miscue seemingly winds up in the back of Ottawa’s net.
Up front, the situation is markedly different. MacLean actually has viable internal options available to him. Interestingly, for better or worse, Paul MacLean has decided to match Jason Spezza against the opposition’s top lines.
"Did we do the right thing? We can look back on it and say maybe no, but at the same time Jason's responsibilities and total game is so important to us. And in order to have an expectation for him to do that in big moments in the game, or in the future in big games, you've got to start somewhere.
"So we decided who Jason plays against based on who we're playing, and at this point we want him playing against the best guys."
Over at Hockeybuzz, Travis Yost has penned a number of interesting and thought provoking pieces which illustrate how far Kyle Turris has come in his development and whether it’d be in Ottawa’s best interests to give him those first line minutes and matchups.
As Extraskater.com shows, Spezza and Michalek have been killed at even strength in close game situations. In these situations, Spezza has been on the ice for 3 goals for and 9 goals against while Michalek has been on the ice for 3 goals for and 8 against.
Offensively, things get a little better when the score isn’t close (Spezza and Michalek have been on the ice for 5 and 4 more five-on-five goals respectively), but for all five-on-five situations, Spezza is tied with Jordan Eberle for being on the ice for the most goals against with 14 -- Michalek isn’t too far behind with 12.
As a player whose offensive numbers are boosted from a series of four games in which he totalled 6 goals and 8 points on 9 shots, it may be in the team’s best interests to start giving Spezza’s line easier minutes.
Other News and Notes
Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts blog column was posted today and besides the news that former Senator captain Randy Cunneyworth is now employed by the Sabres as a scout, it also features one Ottawa Senators-related thought:
9. Erik Karlsson had an epic scrum Monday afternoon in Ottawa, telling reporters, "You talk about me like I was some [bleeping] god or something. It's not easy to live up to that." The scary thing: I'm not sure he's playing that badly, it's just that the Senators depend so much on him to make something out of nothing every shift. Ray Bourque once talked about how many more points he could score if he didn't have to worry about defence, but, as Charlie Huddy once joked, "You can never trust a forward to do a defenceman's job." All of that has to be going through Karlsson's mind, especially as the team struggles.
Gonchar isn't doing well at all in Dallas this year: http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=1957. He wouldn't have been the solution Ottawa needed either. I was hoping Ottawa made a play for Mark Streit but Flyers wanted him pretty badly. Much more than Ottawa did frankly. The rest of the UFA defense market wouldn't have really helped Ottawa.
This leaves Ottawa the choice of making a trade in the off season or seeing if Wiercioch and Cowen can fill into the second pair role -- "wait and see". I think the "wait and see" option was the smart way to go even looking back. Ottawa still has trade card in it's hand. I also believe trade options get better as the season goes on and teams find out where they stand for the playoffs.
I think people also need to keep in mind that both Cowen and Wiercioch are still not even 24 years old. It takes time to become a good NHL defenseman. You have to put in a lot of time. Cowen is coming off a major injury and frankly I don't think he's 100% yet.