The Senators Path to the 2023 Post Season: 100pts or Bust
When the Ottawa Senators take to the ice on Saturday afternoon to play the Edmonton Oilers, they will have been off for 11 consecutive days, and should be well rested. Hopefully they will be a little healthier than they were heading into the break as well.
They had better be. They are about to play the remaining 32 games of their season in 63 days. Yes, that’s a lot of miles and back to backs in a short time frame. No one gave much thought when that December 23rd game against the Red Wings was postponed due to inclement weather. Having it jammed into the back half of the season seems a little more pertinent now.
It’s hard to imagine a way in which a team that sits nine points out of the last wildcard spot with six teams to pass could be thinking of a way to get to the playoffs. The Washington Capitals qualified for the last playoff spot in the east last season with 100 points. The Senators sit at 51. Can 49 points come out of a possible 64 in such a daunting schedule? Most would say NO. Andrew Hammond would say “Hold my beer”.
I am assuming it will take at least 100 points to get that last playoff spot given the teams the Senators are trying to catch. If it turns out to be less, all the better. However, if you are going to the moon, you need to plan to go around the other side and come back.
The skeptical pundits have been talking about tanking for another lottery spot since before the snow fell. I am of the opinion that this core has done enough losing. Whether or not the Senators do make the playoffs, I am of the belief that they need to win as many games as possible between now and April 13th. A culture of winning needs to start now. When you consider the only lucky break the Senators have ever received in the draft lottery was in 2019 when they didn’t own the 1st overall pick and Colorado fell to fourth, getting Connor Bedard in the lottery is probably less likely than them qualifying for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
So, they might as well trudge onward with the understanding that how hard they try to earn those 49 points off the ice might not match the effort given on it.
Before the season, I predicted the playoffs would unfold like this:
Atlantic Division Metropolitan Division
Toronto Maple Leafs Carolina Hurricanes
Florida Panthers Pittsburgh Penguins
Tampa Bay Lightning New York Rangers
New York Islanders (7th)
Columbus Blue Jackets (8th) – YEAH, I KNOW!
Instead (as of Feb 11) they look like this, and Senators find themselves here:
Atlantic Division Metropolitan Division
Boston Bruins (83 pts) Carolina Hurricanes (76 pts)
Toronto Maple Leafs (72 pts) New Jersey Devils (72 pts)
Tampa Bay Lightning (68 pts) New York Rangers (68 pts)
Pittsburgh Penguins (61 pts) – GR (31) RW (21) ROW (25)
Washington Capitals (60 pts) – GR (29) RW (21) ROW (26)
New York Islanders (59 pts) – GR (27) RW (23) ROW (27)
Florida Panthers (58 pts) – GR (28) RW (24) ROW (25)
Buffalo Sabres (56 pts) – GR (32) RW (19) ROW (25)
Philadelphia Flyers (53 pts) – GR (29) RW (20) ROW (21)
Detroit Red Wings (52 pts) – GR (32) RW (17) ROW (21)
Ottawa Senators (51 pts) – GR (32) RW (19) ROW (23)
Montreal Canadiens (44 pts) – GR (31) RW (12) ROW (16)
Columbus Blue Jackets (34 pts) – GR (30) RW (10) ROW (14)
The more often I look at it, the more daunting the task seems. However, if there is an upside to the Senators’ dilemma, it’s who they play in the next 32 games. Of the current non-playoff teams, they play the Islanders (1X), the Sabres (1X), the Panthers (2X), the Flyers (1X), the Red Wings (2X), the Canadiens (1X) and the Blue Jackets (2X). They also play the Penguins (1X) and are done with the Capitals.
Of the 49 points that they need, 22 of them are available against teams either in a wildcard spot or below in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, Detroit, Montreal and Columbus are what I call the low hanging fruit. Granted the Flyers and Red Wings are marginally ahead of the Senators. They have also been sustaining themselves on overtime and shootout losses. The loser’s point will keep you in contention, but it will only get you so far. In the end, you need wins if you want to make the post season. The Senators need to get 12 points out of those six games. The good news is, that if some happen to be three-point games, so be it. The three-point games only matter with the teams you are chasing. With six wins, they won’t be chasing any of them.
There, that’s 12 down and another 37 to go. Clearly, this won’t get done sequentially.
A critical element to our little scheme is that at least one of the two current wildcard teams, and preferably both, can’t catch the Rangers. If the current wildcard teams go on a run, that pretty much nixes the Senators chances. If the Senators have to catch the Rangers to get into the playoffs, they are doomed. At most, one of either Pittsburgh or Washington can jump the Rangers for this to work.
Continuing with the bad news, the Senators remaining schedule consists of three games with currently the hottest team in the East, the Carolina Hurricanes. They also have the Bruins (2X), the Leafs (2X), the Lightning (2X), the Devils (1X) and the Rangers (1X). These are all teams that have a much easier path to 100 points than the Senators do. Throw in the game remaining against the Penguins and that’s 24 valuable points up for grabs.
Again, apart from the Penguins, I don’t regard these teams as realistic targets for the Senators to catch. Even the Penguins are a long shot being nearly even in games and nine points out. The Senators slim hopes lie in catching the Capitals. Therefore, if some of the games happen to go to overtime or a shootout, so be it.
I would be happy with a minimum of eight wins and 18 of those 24 available points.
Just like that, we are at 30 points with 19 to go. This might sound a bit crazy. However, the Senators have beaten the Bruins twice & the Leafs, Rangers and Penguins once each. It wasn’t pretty against the Lightning and Devils. The Rangers have acquired Tarasenko already and all will likely fortify their lineups before the deadline. Necessity is the mother of invention if I am not mistaken.
Now they are more than 60% to their goal, and eight critical points are up for grabs against the Islanders, Sabres and Panthers.
This is where it gets tricky.
The Islanders have pushed their chips all in on Bo Horvat as they view their window as now. Well, when your GM is 80 years old, everything is now. Nonetheless, they have won a couple of games since he arrived, and this may be the kick they needed. They also choked against the Canucks on home ice. It goes without saying that the remaining game with the Islanders (Feb 14th), needs to be a regulation win for the Senators. It would be nice if they had more games remaining against them. However, they have five games in hand. They have to win at least four of them or get eight points. If they do and take care of the game they have with them, that’s one of the six teams that stands between the Senators and where they want to be.
I expected the Sabres to be better this year. They have a seven-player profile in place now that Dylan Cozens has been inked to a seven-year extension and, assuming Eric Comrie pans out in the crease. The battles between Tage Thompson and Brady Tkachuk are going to be epic for years to come. For the rest of this year, they are the Senators biggest obstacle IMO. The Senators have no games in hand, trail by five points and only have one game remaining with the Sabres and it’s the last game of the season.
The Florida Panthers have been an enigma this season. They utterly dominated the Senators on their Florida trip in late October. They are not the same team they were then, and neither are the Senators. In addition to the two remaining games with the Panthers, the Senators enjoy four games in hand. Much like the Islanders, making hay against the low hanging fruit is the key. They would also need to take a minimum of three points out of those two games with Florida getting two or less. Shouldn’t be hard to motivate Brady for these ones.
I would settle for at least seven of those eight points which would bring the Senators to 37 points with 22 of the remaining 32 games played.
Of course, without having a game remaining against the Capitals, they will need to make those games in hand count, and there they have three. These are the same games in hand that they have on the Islanders and Panthers. It’s not like they need to win each game three times. The Capitals will have been off the same amount of time as the Senators when they suit up against the Bruins on Saturday. Let the comeback begin!
They are now done with the Eastern Conference and need to make up the other 12 points in the remaining 10 games.
Those 10 games are distributed between Edmonton (2X), Calgary (2X), Chicago (2X), St. Louis (1X), Seattle (1X), Vancouver (1X) and Colorado (1X). The home and away split is even at five apiece. Getting 12 of a possible 20 points out of this group of games seems reasonable. However, this is where the Senators need to store points like chipmunks in case some of our elaborate plan goes awry. Saturday’s game will set a tone for the remainder of the season and four of the first five games back come out of this group and those four are home games. They need to make hay while the canal melts or this little plan will be all for not.
The final caveat is that the Senators need to avoid overtime and the shootout whenever possible. Obviously, a win is better than a loss. That said, Regulation Wins is the first tiebreaker and Regulation/Overtime Wins, or ROW, is the second. If a regulation win is needed on the last game of the season against Buffalo, and the game is tied late, don’t be surprised if DJ pulls the goalie. If he does, it means that an overtime win is as good as a loss because the other team they would be tied with has more regulation wins. If he pulls the goalie in overtime, same logic for ROW. That’s a problem I would gladly take given the Senators vantage point today.
I know DJ Smith will say “One game at a time”, “We have to worry about ourselves” and “We don’t pay attention to the out-of-town scoreboard”. If that’s true, none of what I have written has a chance of happening.
For the Senators to make a run at this, DJ and his staff are hopefully having this kind of a discussion with the captains and the entire team to get them on board. If they see a way forward, they will go forward.
They need a rallying cry. Why not rally around their assistant coach, Bob Jones, whom I played against in a Major Bantam Provincial Championship Tournament? He won best defenseman in that tournament and deserved it. Now he is in a battle for his life. His battle is a lot more important than the one facing the Senators. That much is a given. It might also be his last battle as an NHL coach. Rather than playing out the string, the Senators owe it to Jones and themselves to make sure they aren’t sellers at the trade deadline.
By no means do I think Pierre Dorion should mortgage the future on this little game plan. Nor do I think this is even remotely likely. He has six UFAs on the roster and, aside from Talbot and perhaps Hamonic, none are worth extending. Four have depth value around the league. He has a job to do. He also has some cap space to make something happen if it makes sense.
You can snicker all you want at this. I, for one, am looking forward to doing some scoreboard watching for the first time in five years. If the Senators hit the ¾ pole closer to the playoffs than they were at the halfway point, all bets are off.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey