For the first time since March 2017, the Ottawa Senators have won five consecutive games, the most recent win being a dominant 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 4.
Their recent run of good form made the Senators buyers before the trade deadline and Pierre Dorion arguably met his team’s two biggest needs.
He acquired highly coveted defenseman Jake Chychrun at a solid price. They gave up a top-5 protected first-round pick in 2023, a conditional second-rounder in 2024 and a second-round pick in 2026. The best part of this deal was the Senators didn’t have to give up one of their young forward prospects like Shane Pinto and Ridley Grieg, which helps because their bottom six depth is very thin.
The Senators also strengthened their bottom six by adding forward Patrick Brown from the Philadelphia Flyers, who is a playmaker, good in the faceoff circle, and efficient on the penalty kill, for only a sixth-round pick.
All of these circumstances: the Senators playing well, their deadline acquisitions, and the fact that Chychrun is already playing well with his new team (he recorded a goal and an assist in their win against the Blue Jackets) have given the Senators hope that they can make the playoffs for the first time since they made the Eastern Conference finals — in 2017.
The fans sure think this team has what it takes to make the playoffs given the “We want playoffs” chant heard at the Canadian Tire Center on Saturday.
Even after the Senators’ abysmal 5-0 loss on March 6 to the Chicago Blackhawks – who have been one of the worst teams in the league this season – the Senators still sit fourth in the East wildcard standings with a record of 32-27-4 (68 points), and are only three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins who hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals also losing on March 6.
So what exactly are the Senators’ chances to make the playoffs?
Playoff Status gives the Ottawa Senators only an 18 percent chance to make the playoffs. They have a five percent chance to clinch the first wildcard spot and a 10 percent chance to earn the second and final wildcard spot.
They have a 2 percent chance to catch the Tampa Bay Lightning 31-27-5 (79 points) to finish third in the division and less than a one percent chance to finish higher in the Atlantic. Realistically, they will not finish higher than a wildcard spot.
That means the Senators have an 82 percent chance to miss the playoffs. Looking at the full picture, this number could be slightly higher, but it makes sense.
The Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, and the Washington Capitals are all tied with the Senators on 68 points and the Panthers and Sabres have the tiebreaker over the Senators. The Sabres also have a game in hand, but the Senators have a game in hand over the Panthers and two on the Capitals.
MoneyPuck gives the Senators a 24.1 percent chance to make the playoffs. They have a 6.4 percent chance to earn the first wildcard spot and a 15.4 percent chance to earn the second wildcard spot.
Perhaps one of the reasons the playoff chances are so low, despite all the talent the Senators have on both sides of the puck is the strength of schedule.
The Senators have the second-hardest remaining schedule, only the Montreal Canadians have a tougher stretch of games left. The Senators still have to play numerous teams atop the Eastern conference such as the Carolina Hurricanes, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Tampa Bay Lightning all twice each, and then they play the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and the Seattle Kraken all once each.
Their “easier” fixtures are once against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Calgary Flames once each and then three massive games against teams who the Senators are competing with for playoff spots: twice against the Panthers and once against the Sabres on the final day of the season.
However, none of these games are easy wins and the Senators cannot look past any opponent. Look what happened against the Blackhawks yesterday.
In the last seven full seasons of hockey (excluding the resumption of the season in the bubble after the initial COVID-19 shutdown and the season with the all-Canadian division), the final wildcard spot in the East was earned by a team with 95 or more points all but once.
In 2013-14 the Redwings had 93 points, in 2014-15 the Penguins had 98 points, in 2015-16 the Flyers finished with 96 points, in 2016-17 the Maple Leafs snuck in with 95 points, in 2017-18, the New Jersey Devils had 97 points, in 2018-19 the Blue Jackets secured the last spot with 98 points and in 2021-22, the Capitals secured the final playoff spot with 100 points, the most high-stakes race for the final playoff spot in many years.
This means the average amount of points a team has needed to secure the final wildcard spot in the East is 96.71, or 97 for the sake of an achievable whole number.
Senators’ long-time play-by-play man Dean Brown said because the wildcard competition is slightly weaker than last year, the Senators will need to finish the season with 95 points to get in.
That means the Senators will need to finish with a record of 13-5-1 in their last 19 games to get 95 points and secure a playoff spot. Brown added that if the Senators can reach 96 or 97 points, their chances would be higher.
Finally, the Senators are also pretty good coming off a loss. They’ve only lost back-to-back games nine times this season and have only lost three or more straight games three times.
It is a long road to the playoffs, especially with goaltender Cam Talbot getting injured for the third time this season prior to the Blackhawks game. It’s undetermined how long he’ll be out. However, the Senators have a lot of talent on their team on both sides of the puck, have been playing well as of late under Head Coach D.J. Smith, winning five of their last six, and they’ve looked really good with Jakob Chychrun in the lineup.
So, for the Senators, playoffs are not impossible, but they’re not easy. I think the Sabres and Senators will get the two wildcard spots and the Panthers, Capitals and Redwings will miss out.