The Ottawa Senators have been preaching the importance of depth for quite a while now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that the organization is using not one but two marketing mottos for its 2013/14 season.
At the time of its introduction, it seemed silly. But now that we’re ten games in, it’s all starting to a make just a little bit more sense.
In a long season, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia.
Remember when Bobby Ryan wasn’t scoring and the media portrayed us fans as panicking, without us even knowing that we were panicking and then we were told not to worry by the media?
Yeah, well as it turns out, we didn’t need it – because the Senators, with their #fearless hash tag, were already providing us a valuable public service announcement - a courtesy to remind fans to stop sweating the small stuff.
What ever happened to waiting 15 to 20 games to pass before it was socially acceptable to pass judgment on the players or manner in which a team was constructed?
Since the moment the season has started, we’ve seen this trend in which fans or the media get worked up over minor issues that should simply resolve themselves in time.
Take the Bobby Ryan situation for example. Looking back over the first few games, a lot of concern focused on Ryan’s production, his lack of chemistry with Jason Spezza and his inability to have an impact on the game when the puck isn’t on his stick.
It didn’t help that former Senator and centerpiece to the Ryan trade for Anaheim, Jakob Silfverberg, put up four goals and five points in his first five games with the Ducks and he also currently sports the sixth best even-strength points per 60 minutes rate in the NHL.
They’re the kind of numbers that warrant attention and when contrasted with Ryan’s, help ensure fans continue to monitor them and revisit this offseason’s biggest trade. Well, at least until some unknown Senator made Silfverberg say ‘Ooh ah’ by breaking his right hand with a slash. Now Silfverberg (and any debating the merits of the trade) will be shelved for the next four to six weeks.
The story of Bobby Ryan wasn’t a secret. (Hey-o!) Being a four-time 30 goal scorer who has also put up 60 to 70 points in the past, we knew that the points would come. And shockingly, once Ryan started scoring – instantaneously upon being moved to a line with Kyle Turris -- everyone moved onto other topical problems.
The demotion of Mika Zibanejad was a contentious issue from the moment word spread on Twitter of its occurrence. As easy as it was to bemoan the organization’s decision to give Stephane Da Costa an opportunity to start the season on the parent club, it’s probably too much of a stretch to say that Zibanejad would have had too much of an impact playing in a similar fourth-line capacity. The difference over such a short period of time would most likely be negligible – although, his goal and an assist in his first two games back have been a welcoming sight to behold.
And from Jason Spezza’s groin to Erik Karlsson’s Achilles injury -- which at times has made him look ordinary – these injuries elicited fear that ‘groin’ was code word for Spezza’s surgically repaired back and that Karlsson might never be able to find that extra gear which made him such a unique talent. Without it, he’s missing that ability to elude the forecheck and skate the puck out of trouble.
Time is supposed to heal all wounds, although in Spezza’s case, scoring on 66.6% of his shots over the past four games leading into Friday night’s game against Anaheim certainly helps calm any concerns about his health, and fortunately for us, it was hard not to notice that Karlsson looked a step faster versus Detroit than he has been of late. (Maybe some of that Alfie home cooking was the remedy he needed – hopefully Bibi Alfredsson made him a care package to bring home to Ottawa.)
Coincidentally, the Senators finally resembled a team that could compete with the better teams in the NHL. Keeping in mind that Kevin Bieksa once said it took him a full year calendar year to feel like he was before his own Achilles injury, so holding Karlsson to that benchmark, there’s still a four month window for him to progress.
I suppose the Jared Cowen/Patrick Wiercioch second pairing struggles would be something I’d throw considerable weight to if Cowen hadn’t missed the entire 2012/13 NHL season to hip surgery or if Wiercioch wasn’t adjusting to playing his off side. Even if they continue to struggle, I still wouldn’t really feel inclined to place the blame on the players, I’d fault management for not doing a better job finding an effective replacement for Sergei Gonchar’s minutes and forcing the coaching staff to move Joe Corvo into a top four capacity and then rely on Chris Phillips more than they probably should.
None of this is meant to sugar coat or gloss over the problems that exist or potentially will persist over the course of the season, it’s just to point out that it's a long season with many ups and downs. We can blame the small sample size. We can blame things for happening at start of the season when there is always more media coverage and casual fan interest, but ultimately, none of what has happened to this point should come as a surprise.
The team has introduced some new faces and a number of players coming off significant injuries to its lineup. Throw in a ridiculously difficult schedule to start this season and keep things in perspective and it becomes pretty obvious that we should all be waiting for the season to play out a little bit more before we come out with guns blazing.