The Ottawa Senators find themselves in a great spot in the home stretch of the season. The improvement from last years season is exponential. The Sens are two wins away from matching last seasons wins totals, and they still have 18 games left to play. They sit in second place in the Atlantic division, four points back from the Montreal Canadiens, but with two games in hand.
Many things have changed that can be attributed to their success. New head coach Guy Boucher has done an impressive job getting his players to buy into “The System”. New General Manager, Pierre Dorion, has added depth to the lineup. Those new players have given much needed energy to the team. Ottawa has caught the hockey world off guard, sitting in ninth in the league with 78 points. Here are two areas that have put the Sens where they are today.
This has been a weird season between the pipes for Ottawa. With Craig Anderson going on personal leave, the Sens had to adjust. Enter Mike Condon. A guy who knows the role of replacing a starting goalie well. The season before, he stepped in for an injured Carey Price, playing in 51 games. This season he has been in 34 games, posting nice numbers at 17 wins, 2.57 GAA, .910 SV%, and five shutouts. Condon deserves credit for keeping the Senators in the race, but everyone knew this was Anderson’s crease.
When Anderson returned from absence on February 11th to face the New York Islanders, Guy Boucher was excited, but told the media “expectations are not that he is coming in to save us and get us a shutout“. Well that’s exactly what Anderson did, posting a 33-save shutout his first game back. And he has been on fire ever since. He has played ten games in 2017, winning eight of them and never allowing more than three goals a game with a .944 SV%. In that time span, the only goalie with equal amount of wins, ironically, is former Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott. Sergei Bobrovsky is the only goaltender with a better SV% (.957) in that span. Keep in mind he has had three straight shutouts. Pretty good company to be in.
First of all, the message that comes with adding players to the team at the trade deadline is big in itself. When Dorion traded a prospect and a pick to add Alexandre Burrows and Viktor Stalberg he was letting the team and fans know: Ottawa is for real this season. Although Burrows and Stalberg aren’t monumental additions, they are key pieces to Boucher’s system. Adding to the depth of the team helped spread the weight around and allowed guys to focus on their roles.
A problem for the Senators was finding guys to play on the penalty kill. They have three players in the leagues top 25 of shorthanded minutes played (Chris Kelly, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Tom Pyatt). Stalberg will help spread those minutes around. Especially with guys like Pageau and Pyatt, who’s biggest skill is their speed. If they are tired from playing hard penalty killing minutes, their energy is down and they aren’t able to access their speed throughout the stretch of a 60 minute game.
Boucher’s system focuses on putting pressure on the puck and having guys drive to the net. In the March 2nd pre game media session, Boucher talks about how he likes the determination of Burrows and Stalberg to drive hard to the net. Stalberg’s first goal as a Senators player was right in front of the net working for a rebound. So he backed his new coaches words up. See for yourself below.
Despite some unfortunate circumstances, like Anderson’s personal leave and long term injuries such as Bobby Ryan‘s broken finger and Clarke MacArthur‘s season on the shelf, the Ottawa Senators looked poised to make the playoffs this season. Even a division title is within their grasp. As mentioned, the Habs are just six points ahead, and the Sens have three games in hand. Coincidentally, there are three more games against the Habs this season. Those will prove to be key points when deciding home-ice advantage and favourable early round opponents in the playoffs. Thanks to solid goaltending and added depth at the deadline, the Senators have put themselves in a position to be a threat in the Eastern Conference come the playoffs.