The Ottawa Senators have continued their unlikely success early in the season and have even shown signs of improving the worrying aspects of their game. After making very few changes over the summer following a disappointing season (aside from losing their captain and one of their top point-getters), the Senators have so far managed a respectable 6-3-2.
What has made the difference? The number one improvement over last season is the goaltending. Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner have been sharing the duties equally so far. Both have had exceptional performances. Anderson has a goals against of 2.15 and a save percentage of .939, while Lehner is at 2.54 and .927. The goals against is a little high for both at this time, but that is in large part due to the Senators getting regularly and badly outshot. None of the losses this season can be pinned on either goaltender, which is not a statement that was true at this time last season. These guys are giving the team a chance to win every night and it is no longer a concern which player is in net.
Goal scoring is still something of an issue. Right now, the Senators are 21st in the league in goals-for with only 31 through 11 games. Bobby Ryan is still underperforming, with only 3 goals so far. Again, Ryan is a typically slow starter, so this is likely not the pace he will maintain for the whole season. Clarke MacArthur has started to show himself. He is scoring important and timely goals, as he did last season, and has rediscovered the chemistry with Kyle Turris.
The young players are impressing as well. It has been confirmed that Curtis Lazar will not be returned to juniors this year, since tonight will be his 10th game. Mike Hoffman has also been told to find a house in Ottawa. Lazar has impressed so far as a third line centre. He has yet to score his first NHL goal, but has no problem throwing his relatively small body around to create space and make plays. Hoffman has his speed and his accuracy behind him. The speed has definitely been demonstrated, while the accuracy still needs a bit of work, but he does have one goal on the year.
There is another player who has quietly been improving significantly: Jared Cowen. Last season, he was the heel of the defence. This year started much like the last, which led to him being sat for 5 games. Since he has been back, he has been almost invisible on the ice – and that is a good thing. He is a stay-at-home defenseman who has not been making glaring errors or giving away the puck. He’s made some solid defensive plays and has stopped taking so many unnecessary penalties. In short, he isn’t making the noticeable mistakes anymore. This may be the potential that the team has always seen in him.
Erik Karlsson has had a bit of a roller coaster ride this week. According to Sens fans on Twitter, he was the sole cause of the Senators’ 4-2 loss to Boston last week. And he did have a bad game. He gave away the puck, made bad decisions when he had it, and couldn’t make a defensive play to save his life. But it was one bad night. He came back and played responsibly against the Detroit Red Wings for a 3-1 victory. He has even begun making defensive decisions instead of offensive at every turn. Karlsson’s game seems to be maturing, but he’s going to have off nights once in a while, as every player does. The point is that he has far more nights where he is exceptional than where he plays poorly. He can also make defensive plays that other players can’t. In the 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Kris Versteeg had a breakaway. Even he couldn’t believe when Karlsson was able to catch up with him.
This week is an incredibly busy week for the team. On October 22, the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs was cancelled due to a tragic shooting in downtown Ottawa. That game was rescheduled to November 9th, which means that the Senators play 7 games in 12 nights. As I said before, the first game of that stretch on Tuesday was a 3-1 victory over the Red Wings. They will play the Minnesota Wild tonight, followed by the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and the Leafs on Sunday, before heading out west to face the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The busy schedule combined with the travel will take its toll on the team, but with the young talent they have, they should be able to find the energy.
(Featured photo by Lisa Gansky)