Few will soon forget the late-season run of the Ottawa Senators, the one that saw them go 23-4-4 down the stretch to finish with a 43-26-13 record for 2014-2015. This was due in large part to the arrival of head coach Dave Cameron, who took over from Paul MacLean after the latter was canned on December 8. The Senators were 32-15-8 under Cameron.
Ottawa scored 232 goals, putting them second in their division to the Tampa Bay Lightning in terms of offensive output. They allowed 208 goals, which was due in large part to the emergence of Andrew Hammond after the 27-year-old netminder took over after injuries to Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. The Hamburglar was struggling in the AHL, but he went 20-1-2 with the Senators. That’s not a misprint.
The Senators also got some great hockey from captain Erik Karlsson, who won his second Norris Trophy and seems to be really growing into his role with the club. He had a slow start like the rest of the Sens, but turned things around for a 66-point season that included 21 goals. The defenceman averaged 27:15 of ice time in the regular season and nearly 29 minutes a game in the post-season. Again, that’s not a misprint.
Kyle Turris has had to come out as a top line centre and he’s done so, producing 64 points in 82 games last season. He had 24 goals, with six game-winners, and averaged 19:12 of ice time a game. The 26-year-old has found chemistry with Clarke MacArthur, who put up 36 points in 62 games. The winger can be a streaky scorer and is often overestimated by the press, but MacArthur’s real ace in the hole is his toughness. Turris will make him a better player, but hoping for 30 goals out of him is probably a mistake.
Mark Stone is another component to Ottawa’s offensive attack. He had 64 points last season, including 26 goals. He gets in the prime scoring areas and managed to be a finalist in Calder Trophy voting. The Senators rewarded him with a three year contract and he became a point-per-game producer in the latter half of the season.
Bobby Ryan, sadly, had an off year. He’s still a top six guy in theory, but the Senators are hoping for ore from the 28-year-old. He had just 18 goals last season, but just one goal in the last 20 games. That’s hard to believe when you consider just how much the Senators were rocking the house down the stretch. Milan Michalek and Mike Hoffman, who had 27 goals in 79 games, gives Ottawa more punch up front.
So much has already been said about Erik Karlsson and for good reason. He’s easily one of the best defencemen in the National Hockey League and he propels the Senators’ attack from the back. He’s a smooth skater with excellent hockey sense and he excels with partner Marc Methot. Methot missed the first 37 games of last season, but he’s back and ready to rumble.
Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch comprise the second pairing, with Ceci capable of quarterbacking the power play. He had 21 points last season, including five goals, and he’s nearing the 20-minute mark in terms of ice time. Wiercioch had 13 points in 56 games and puts up offensive numbers in large part thanks to his booming point shot. He had four points in six playoff games.
The Senators will likely look to Mark Borowiecki as part of a third pairing, with a revolving door of possibilities as his partner. Chris Phillips is potentially in the mix, but back surgery and a recent setback may but a damper on those plans. Chris Wideman is in the conversation, while Jared Cowen currently sits with a big contract and very little upside. Many consider Cowen on the trading block.
While many are ready to pass the torch to Andrew Hammond as Ottawa’s starter, it may not be that simple. Hammond will have to prove that his stretch drive wasn’t a fluke, for one. He stumbled somewhat in the post-season, losing two games and allowing seven goals, and he has a lot to prove in the big leagues. If he gets off on the right foot, the popular vote will likely be in his favour.
But Craig Anderson didn’t have a bad year, all things considered. He was 14-13-8 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, but he really came through as a stabilizing force in the playoffs. He was 2-2, with a 0.97 goals against average, a shutout, and a .972 save percentage. If the Sens had gotten their act together in front of him, he’d be a hero.
The Senators have a decent tank of prospects and most agree that winger Nicholas Paul is the most thrilling of the bunch. Acquired in a July 2014 trade with the Dallas Stars, Paul was what Ottawa wanted in exchange for Jason Spezza. He’s a sturdy skater and had a decent season with North Bay in the OHL, scoring 37 goals in 58 games for the Battalion.
Winger Matt Puempel may be NHL-ready for 2015-2016. He saw action in 13 games last season in late February and scored his first goal against the Bruins, but an ankle sprain kept him from furthering his quest to make the roster full-time. Luckily, Puempel will be back for more this season and could make the big club out of training camp. He has great offensive instincts, even if his defensive play is lacking.
The Path Ahead
There are a lot of questions for the Senators going into 2015-2016. Hammond has a lot to prove in goal if he intends to be the starter, while the group of young forwards will have to capitalize on the thrilling stretch drive. Playing historic hockey to close out a season makes for nice headlines, but the Senators need consistency throughout the year if they intend to make the post-season again.
Make no mistake about it, there’s a lot to like about Ottawa’s chances this season. But the playoffs are not a foregone conclusion and the Senators will have to fight for every win. Coach Cameron will ensure that this is a team that forechecks and plays a belligerent, up-tempo style. That’s all well and good, but a few cracks in the armour could send their chances tumbling down.