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Playoffs? Dreaming. Meaningful Games? Hopeful.

The Ottawa Senators' struggles to start the season have been well documented after heightened importance was placed on the first few months. Ottawa has practically played themselves out of any chance to make the playoffs by the end of November for the third straight year and the story has been much of the same. Major injuries, poor defensive play, and questionable coaching decisions. With a much-improved team, results were reasonably expected.

Sens lose 3-1 to Rangers to close out yet another tough November

Despite only picking up 17 of a possible 42 points through 21 games, this team is MUCH better. Offensively, there have been struggles to finish chances, but the Sens are near the top of the league in driving play in the offensive zone. Defensively, the emergence of Jake Sanderson and the significant development of Erik Brannstrom has done wonders for the blueline, despite the team as a whole struggling. In goal, it has felt like some games have been shaky, but the truth is the Senators are getting some of the best goaltending they have gotten in years.

Thriving, but Struggling Offense

This forward group is proving to be one of the most effective in the league, despite struggles with finishing opportunities and losing their number-one center. There are a few stats that show this gap well. Ottawa is 20th in the league with 40 goals for (GF) but is 11th in the league in expected goals for (xGF). Same goes for GF% (50% -16th) and xGF% (53% - 8th).

The Sens also sit 25th in the league in SH% shooting at 7.49%. To put that in perspective a little, they finished 27th in the league last season with a higher SH% around 7.6%. The shooting percentage is bound to come up eventually, given historic data and the pure talent of the group. Over time fans should see the actual numbers, currently below average for the league, creep closer to the expected numbers, which say this is a top-10 offense.

(All metrics at 5v5, from NaturalStatTrick)

Youthful Injection on the Blueline

Ottawa needed a top-four defenceman, and they got him in Jake Sanderson. The only problem is, they still need another. Just 21 games into his NHL career, Sanderson is posting far better numbers than your average defenceman. Carrying an xGF% of 52.3%, fourth on the team, and a CF% of 52.2%, 5th on the team, he is posting positive metrics on a d-core that really needed improvement. This is likely to only improve as he gets more experience, opportunity, and pairings with higher-quality teammates.

Also, Erik Brannstrom has been somewhat disappointing in putting up points and taking some bad penalties, but overall he has developed into an effective NHL defenseman. He carries both the highest xGF% at 58.4% and CF% at 55.7% among all defenders on this team (over 50 min played). He also contributes to the 3/4 most effective pairings in CF% and 2/3 of the top pairings in xGF% that have played more than 25 min together.

Recent developments and injuries have provided opportunities for these two, along with JBD, to show they belong over some older players, providing hope for the defensive structure of this team in the future. Brannstrom and JBD will be good utility/support players, whereas Chabot, Sanderson, and Zub are bonafide top-four defencemen. The next step will be replacing Hamonic, despite his relatively good numbers so far this season.

(All metrics at 5v5, from NaturalStatTrick)

Top 10 Goaltending in the League

A perpetual problem with this team has been poor goaltending. There hasn't been consistency or quality since Craig Anderson left the organization until Forsberg found his groove last year. With the addition of veteran keeper Cam Talbot, Ottawa has finally solidified its crease. Although there has been the occasional bad goal or poor game, overall the tandem is above average when compared to their peers. The Senators sit 9th league-wide in SV% at .922%, with Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg posting a .928% and .918% respectively. This has them at 14th and 28th in the league, out of 54 goalies who have played 300 mins or more. The last time they had a team save percentage that high was the season of the Eastern Conference Final run in 2017.

(All metrics at 5v5, from NaturalStatTrick)

As frustrating as the start has been, the team is finding its stride now with back-to-back wins, and many public models are still projecting them to finish in the mid-80s for points. A large improvement from previous years. The playoffs may be only a dream now, sitting 28th in Pts% at the quarter mark of the season, but it may be possible to push closer to the 90pt mark and at least get back into the conversation. As young players continue to get better and the roster gets healthy, fans should see this team rise to a team that is not talking about another top-10 pick come June.

By Ryan Hyndman | Sens Nation Hockey


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