For the second year in a row, the Ottawa Senators had a mixed bag of a season. Starting with a 4-14-1 record and a COVID breakout, and later suffering from long term injuries to Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Thomas Chabot, Shane Pinto, Colin White, Matt Murray, and even Jake Sanderson made it a season with the lowest of lows. As a result, it took the Senators quite a long time to find their groove. However, once they did, they actually did find some success. Many young players took huge strides this season to becoming impact players in the NHL. These young guns led the Sens to having a fairly productive year after December, going 29-27-6.
But more specifically, how do we rate their 82 games?
I’m going to break it down by judging the team as a whole and touch on the individual successes of certain players.
As a team, the Sens’ goalscoring ability was quite lackluster. This year, the Sens scored only 227 goals, which sits at an unimpressive 26th in the league. If we compare this to last year, they scored 157 goals in 56 games which projects to about 230 goals over the course of a full 82 game season. While this is technically a deterioration, it’s not enough of a change to worry about.
Ottawa scored an average of 2.73 goals per game, which also is 26th best in the league. This is simply not good enough to come close to playoff contention. 14 of the 16 teams that made the playoffs have over 3.00 goals per game, with the majority scoring over 3.20 goals per game. If the Sens want to come close to making the post season next year, they’re going to need to score much more than their current pace.
The Senators powerplay was a sight to be seen this year (when their stars were healthy). Their first unit comprised of Stützle, Tkachuk, Batherson, Norris, and Chabot showed tremendous chemistry when dishing the puck around on the PP. It was the best their powerplay had looked in the last decade. This year, the powerplay clicked for a goal 19.3% of the time, which marked 20th best in the NHL. Comparing it to last year’s 15.5%, the Sens improved greatly. Generally, a “good” powerplay is 20% or higher, but I think the Sens can be given some slack here considering that for most of the second half of the year, Norris, Batherson, and Chabot all missed significant time, which greatly impacted the PP’s success. The second unit was much less impressive, considering it mostly featured depth players that would never get so much of a sniff on most other teams’ PP. Hopefully, this will be fixed by bringing in some more quality players in the offseason.
Despite the offence as a whole being underwhelming, many players surpassed expectations and had fantastic offensive seasons. It had been since the 2011-12 season that the Sens have had a 30-goal scorer. That drought was snapped by Josh Norris who had a monstrous season, scoring 35 goals. Brady Tkachuk silenced his critics with an incredible offensive season where he scored 30 goals. Additionally, Tim Stützle, Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson, and even Austin Watson all had respectable seasons, scoring 22, 18, 17, and 10 goals respectively.
Unfortunately, several players disappointed expectations, leading to a poor season for the Senators as a whole. Connor Brown only managed to score 10 goals this year after his incredible showing last year. However, given that he was playing with both of his wrists injured for considerable time, we can dismiss his low goal total. Chris Tierney had a horrible season, only scoring 6 goals. His play only worsened after each year, so fans were happy to hear that he won’t be back next season. Despite Erik Brannström improving over the course of the year, he could not score even a single goal. Judging defencemen based on their offensive production is usually looked down upon, but teams really do need offence to come from their back end to succeed. Brannström will be relied upon to take a major step next year to support Chabot (and hopefully Sanderson).
Therefore, because of the low production from the team as a whole, a grade of C is attributed to their offence. However, certain individual players showed some exciting offensive ability that will hopefully lead the Sens to success in the near future.
Now let’s take a look at the other end of the ice. The team allowed a total of 264 goals this year, landing them at 22nd best in the NHL. Comparing this result to last year, they’ve actually improved. In 2020-21, the Senators allowed 189 goals in 56 games (28th in the league), which projects to roughly 277 goals against over a full 82 game season. This difference might not seem like much to some, but it’s actually a fairly sizeable improvement, especially considering Chabot’s lengthy absence.
Ottawa allowed an average of 3.2 goals against per game. For reference, a playoff team should be expected to have an average GA/game under 3.0. However, Ottawa improved from last year’s 3.5 GA/G. That 0.3 improvement is actually a fairly major accomplishment considering it can also be the difference between a bottom feeder and a playoff team.
Turning over to special teams: the Senators’ penalty kill is one of their most impressive stats. They killed 80.3% of penalties which is good for 13th best in the league. Earlier, I mentioned that a PP% of around 20% is widely considered to be impressive. Well, a PK% of about 80% is looked at similarly. If a team’s special team percentages add up to 100% or higher, then they’re looked at as having an above average special team. The likes of Chabot and Zub aided the PK greatly with their skilled defensive play. Additionally, Alex Formenton’s league leading 5 shorthanded goals helped to make Ottawa’s penalty kill an offensive threat.
As mentioned above, Chabot impressed fans this year with his newfound defensive capabilities. Let’s compare his stats from his 49 games played last year to his 59 this year: plus/minus improved tremendously from -15 to -4, takeaways went from 18 to 29, giveaways decreased from 82 to 68, and blocked shots increased from 72 to 93. On a team lower in the standings like Ottawa, these stats are quite impressive for one who was considered a defensive liability. Artem Zub was a rock on defence once again in 2021-22. He managed to end up with a +1 plus/minus which is phenomenal. A positive plus/minus on a bad team full of negatives illustrates Zub’s defensive skill.
In terms of defencemen who unimpressed fans, it’s hard not to mention Nikita Zaitsev. His poor positioning and awareness routinely led to frustrating goals against. Zaitsev is kind of a weird player as he plays a more defensive/physical game than usual for someone of his build. He doesn’t have much offensive ability to his game, which combined with his defensive lapses and horrific contract (paying him $4.5 million until 2024) make him an easy target for fans. Finally, Erik Brannström was at times, hard to watch this year. His small stature makes it incredibly difficult to defend as he can be easily moved off the puck. This forced him to take holding, hooking, and tripping penalties to be able to stop the opposition. His poor defensive play and lack of the offence that was promised to fans by Pierre Dorion when he brought him over for Mark Stone made him open for lots of criticism this year.
While I wanted to give the Sens a B-, because they allowed so many goals I couldn’t justify it, thus a C+ is given. However, I will say that their defensive improvement from last year and successful PK% are to be looked at favourably.
The last item on our laundry list is goaltending. At the beginning of the year, hopes were high for Matt Murray to bounce back to form after a disappointing season. However, much like last year, things didn’t go well for him. After a horrendous start, he was sent down to Belleville in hopes he would find his game. Upon his return, he was quite good, managing to bring his save percentage up to a respectable .906. Unfortunately, his season came to a close early due to an upper body injury. The key to his success will be whether he can stay healthy to form a solid tandem with Anton Forsberg.
Filip Gustavsson had a pretty deplorable season after an impressive stint last year. Finishing with a .892 SV%, he never really found his footing and with Forsberg playing so well, it was hard for him to get in many games down the stretch. Since he was on a two-way contract this year, he could be sent down to the AHL without worry of being claimed on waivers. However, next year his contract will be one-way, meaning he could be claimed by another team if he was sent down to Belleville. The Sens will need to make a decision on goaltending this summer or they’ll likely lose him to waivers next year.
To end on a bright spot, Anton Forsberg was the shining star of the Sens season. It had been years since Ottawa had one of the best goalies in the NHL, but in 2021-22, Forsberg came into his own. Forsberg finished the year with a winning record of 22-17-4, a goals against average of 2.82, and a top 10 save percentage of .917. Truly a magnificent season for the Swedish netminder who has cured the doubts of those who questioned Ottawa’s goaltending.
While I was hesitant to give them such a high score because of the lack of consistency of Murray and Gustavsson, Forsberg’s outstanding efforts gave me no other choice but to give the Sens’ goaltending an A-.
Thanks for sticking with us at 613 Sports throughout this season of up and downs. We look forward to providing more exciting content this offseason leading into next season!