Stats from prior to the game against New Jersey Devils Dec. 6, 2021
Through 22 games, the Ottawa Senators sit last in the Atlantic Division and last in the NHL with a record of 6-15-1, totaling 13 points.
Through 22 games last season, the Senators had a 7-14-1 record. It appears that despite adding more talent in the offseason, the Senators have downgraded slightly. To be fair, they are playing against the entire NHL this year – last season they played only against Canadian teams.
The Senators have been competitive in a handful of games this season, but a number of key flaws have been made evident at the quarter mark of the season.
A good portion of the Senators’ struggles can be attributed to a large COVID-19 outbreak, which sidelined the entire team for almost a week and had 10 players and an assistant coach in isolation after positive tests or as a result of being close contacts.
However, that is not the only reason for their struggles. They need a lot of help defensively and need more players to score on a more consistent basis. Their goaltending can improve – as it is the backbone to any team’s success – but has been solid given the situation they’re in.
Defensively, the Senators are one of the worst teams in the league in terms of time spent in their own zone. The team struggles to consistently get set up in the offensive zone, struggles to get the puck out of their own zone, and they struggle to create takeaways in the neutral zone. This leads to their opposition controlling the time of possession and the flow of the game, and on most nights it leads to opposing teams outshooting the Sens and spending more time in the Senators’ defensive zone than the Sens spend in their opponents’ offensive zone.
The Senators have given up 86 goals against, which is fourth-worst in the NHL and they’ve given up an outstanding 767 shots against, which is eighth-worst in the NHL.
This is mainly because outside of their first defensive pairing consisting of Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub, the defensive core has been underwhelming to start the season.
Guys like Erik Brannstrom (now on IR), Victor Mete, Nick Holden, and Nikita Zaitsev have all been underwhelming at times this season. However, Senators’ head coach D.J Smith has added Zaitsev to the first defensive line and placed Zub on the second defensive pairing in order to distribute the top-line defensive talent onto multiple lines. This was done in hopes of seeing improvement on defense and in an attempt to reduce own zone time and generate more offensive chances in transition.
The first-line defensive line can only play so many minutes a night. In order to be competitive, the Senators need their entire defense to play consistently, at an elite level. Thomas Chabot averages over 27 minutes of ice time per game, he is among the league leaders in that category.
The Senators need to address their lack of depth on the blue line one way or another. Either players like Mete and Holden and Zaitsev improve drastically or maybe the Senators start looking to trade for a young, talented defensive piece that would mend this unit now. However, the main concern with that is you don’t want to give up too many assets in acquiring this piece, especially considering the depth defensively the Senators will get in 1-2 years time with guys like Jake Sanderson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Tyler Kleven, and Lassi Thompson who has looked good in his limited NHL appearances so far.
On the other side of the puck, their offense simply cannot make up for their defensive struggles. They lack the offensive firepower outside their first two lines and their offense has been plagued by inconsistent play and inability to push the puck up the ice to generate chances. They’ve scored only 57 goals, which is fifth-worst in the NHL, and registered only 631 shots on target, which is fourth-worst in the NHL.
The Senators’ first offensive trio consisting of Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris has been excellent, but the Senators have lacked offensive production from other lines.
Batherson, Norris, and Tkachuk have 18, 17, and 16 points respectively which combine for 51 of the team’s 151 points. The first line accounts for almost 34% of their total offense, which is what a first line should do, but ideally, you want to see a bit more balance between your other lines.
Connor Brown (12), Tim Stutzle (11) – who has been playing pretty well in his new role as a centerman, especially with faceoff success – and Nick Paul (4) have combined for 27 points; that is about 18% of the team’s output.
Alex Formenton (5), Chris Tierney (7), and Tyler Ennis (11) have accounted for 23 of the team’s points; that is just over 15% of the team’s offensive output.
The Senators’ fourth line has really hurt them. Zach Sanford has 6 of the 8 points this line has generated as Dylan Gambrell and Austin Watson have each registered only one point this season.
The first line ideally should be your best line, but as many previous Stanley Cup Champions have done in past years, there must be consistent scoring from all four lines and there needs to be a bit more balance between all the lines.
The Senators will either need to acquire a new offensive weapon or two via trade, from free agency, from the 2022 draft or will have to wait until one of their many prospects develops into a reliable option like Shane Pinto, who has underwhelmed in his few appearances thus far this season; Ridley Grieg, Roby Jarventie, Tyler Boucher, Egor Sokolov, among others. This offense needs another pure scorer and another elite playmaker to make this offense more dynamic top-to-bottom. Again, the first line cannot do it all.
Finally, the goaltending. The Senators are a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of goaltending. No stats jump out at you, but it’s nothing to scoff at either. Given the situation, the team is in defensively, being one of the worst team’s in the league in own zone time, shots allowed and goals against, both Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg have played well.
Gustavsson has had the majority of the work, going 3-6-1 in 10 games, with a save percentage of .899% and a goals-against-average of 3.64. He made 311 saves on 346 shots. Forsberg has been decent, recording a 3-4-0 record in eight games (he was pulled in one). He recorded a .893% save percentage, 4.13 goals-against-average, and has surrendered 26 goals on 242 shots. Matt Murray has been the worst of the three goalies going 0-5-0 in six games (he was pulled in one), which is why he was waived. He recorded a .897 save percentage and a 3.86 goals-against-average. All three goalies made crucial saves to keep games close on numerous occasions but as a result of the subpar defense, you can’t expect any goalie to be consistently elite and thus, the goalies are not the main reason for this season’s struggles.
Overall, the Senators haven’t had the best start to the season and they are in no position to take a breath, however, they aren’t in utter shambles. General manager Pierre Dorion said that he’s had a couple “sleepless nights” after the poor start to the season, and it has a lot of that has to do with the lack of depth on defense and lack of even offensive production from all their lines, however, their COVID-19 outbreak didn’t help things. They have a few good pieces in place already, but they need another few key players on both offense and defense to really start winning consistently and contending for a playoff spot.
*All statistics current as of December 5 at 8pm.