To the surprise of many but not all, the Ottawa Senators are playing some pretty good hockey right now. They’ve posted a 3-2-1 start to the season and will continue a five-game homestand Saturday, so they’ve got a few days to collect themselves after polishing off the Dallas Stars Monday night.
That 4-1 victory put the wrap on a heavy swing through some Western Conference clubs and it also put an exclamation point on a statement start thus far this season.
So how and why are things going so well for the team that was, by most accounts, supposed to be a disaster this season?
For one, goaltending.
Craig Anderson made 37 saves against the Stars Monday. For the Senators, that wasn’t an exception.
Ottawa owns the second-worst shot differential in the NHL at -69, which has set Anderson up to face the most shots of any goalie so far. The good news is that he’s only sixth in facing high-danger shots and 14th in the five-on-five, which means the Senators are controlling things around the crease and making sure Anderson can see the biscuit.
The 37-year-old has a 3.02 goals against average and a .925 save percentage over five starts.
Another reason for Ottawa’s success is found among their young players.
“The fun is watching our young guys step up and contributing at a rapid rate right at the moment,” said Anderson. “It’s fun watching these kids go out there and have a blast.”
Yes, the Senators are having a blast. The team with the much-reported tumultuous locker room and the team who lost Erik Karlsson to the Sharks for little to no return is “having a blast.”
Maxime Lajoie has been huge. He has seven points in six games and opened the scoring against the Stars on Monday. The history books say he’s off to a faster offensive start than any Ottawa blueliner, including the departed Karlsson and other luminaries like Wade Redden.
Lajoie was not a high draft pick, either. He was selected by the Senators in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, a bout of mononucleosis dragging down his fortunes. But now here’s Lajoie flirting with the top of the rookie scoring charts, reinforcing the offensively-sturdy defence in Ottawa along with Thomas Chabot.
And to think, Lajoie wasn’t even expected to make the club in training camp.
Add Brady Tkachuk to the list. He has six points in four games and has been set up with Chris Tierney and Mark Stone. Tierney came over in that little trade, the one that was supposed to send the Senators underground for the next few seasons while they rebuilt from the ashes. He’s now leading the team in points.
And Dylan DeMelo, who also came over in the Karlsson trade, has five points in six games.
It may be too early to say that the Ottawa Senators are alive and kicking and that they could be among the more formidable Canadian teams this season. But it’s not too late to say things are going well, with rookies scoring and goaltenders performing well and the team coming together despite a seriously awful summer. And that is a story in and of itself.