The Ottawa Senators haven't gotten the desired results in the team's first two games of the 2011-12 season, but there have been positive signs nonetheless.
No Sens fan would point to the Ottawa Senators 0-2 start and say that's what they were hoping for to start the season. We've seen a team plagued with inconsistent scoring, giveaway-ridden and positionally-abhorrent defence, and some highly questionable goaltending.
But it's not all bad. The Senators have shown that they're able to do some things well, and, for the most part, those things that have been lacking should be fixable with a buy-in up and down the lineup. Below are four bright spots to the winless start to the 2011-12 season.
1. Ottawa can score goals.
This, to me, is the most pleasantly surprising development of the first two games this season: Ottawa has scored eight goals in just two games against two pretty good goaltenders. The biggest part of that fact is the health of Jason Spezza (1G, 3A), Daniel Alfredsson (2G, 1A), and Milan Michalek (2G, 1A), but no fewer than 12 Senators players have already scored points in this
young embryonic season. Offence has come from pretty much throughout the lineup, too, despite its concentration on the above-mentioned three top forwards.
Also positive is that special teams are clicking, and Ottawa already has four powerplay goals (from four different scorers, no less). Last season, it took until the seventh game for the Senators to score as many goals with the man-advantage as they've already notched through just two games this season.
Can this continue? It's unclear. On paper, Ottawa's roster should technically be offensively dangerous than last season considering the losses of Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, and Chris Kelly, who've been replaced by very green and unproven players. But it looks like Paul MacLean's system calls for an aggressive forecheck and a lot of pucks thrown on the net, both factors which should increase scoring chances in Ottawa's favour. We'll see.
2. Fixable shortcomings.
The biggest problem so far for the Senators, without a doubt, has been turnovers--especially defensive-zone turnovers committed by the team's blueliners. To a man, the entire D corps has been guilty at one time or another, although names at the top of the list are likely Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar. The whole group has also found themselves out of position far too often, resulting in odd-man rushes and wide-open opponents with a free shot at Craig Anderson. This cannot continue.
But these are problems which can be corrected. It's important to keep in mind that the Senators have barely practiced together yet, and there was no time to address shortcomings noticed in the first game before the team had to hit the ice for the second. If the defence commits to making simpler plays and gets ample support from the forwards, we should see a bit more competence in the defensive end.
Will this happen? It seems even less likely than team scoring continuing at a rate near the current one, but it is possible. But as Gonchar, Phillips, and to a lesser extent Filip Kuba continue playing as ineffectively as they have in the first two games, it will go a long way in demonstrating that last season's ugly back-end performance is more the rule than the exception. (It may offer Brian Elliott a smidgen of vindication, though.) On the bright side, Kuba should be motivated by the fact that he's in a contract year, and I simply can't believe Gonchar has straight-up forgotten how to play hockey.
3. Rookie scoring.
Mika Zibanejad had an assist in his first NHL game, and Stéphane Da Costa scored a goal in his sixth. Although Nikita Filatov isn't a rookie, he's pretty close to it, and he put up an assist in his first game with the Sens. It's obviously nice to see these kids have some success, but it's also promising to see that that can keep up with the speed of the NHL game, and nice to know they're proving it early. Most promising is Da Costa, who hasn't just kept up but has looked like a veritable top-six player in the NHL (as long as he keeps his head up, of course).
It's unclear if Zibanejad will stay in Ottawa this season, but at this point it seems more likely that he'll return to Sweden. But if Da Costa and Filatov continue playing with the high-calibre teammates they're lined up beside now, and that group remains relatively healthy, there's every reason to think they'll continue scoring at a pace similar to that which they're on now.
Craig Anderson isn't to blame for either of the two losses so far, but he hasn't been his best, either--even on an absolutely terrible team, Anderson should be a better goaltender than his 5.40 GAA and .857 SP would indicate. And he is. Once Anderson watches the tape of his first two games and realizes that he just needs to get back to getting square to the puck, challenging shooters, and sticking to the top of his crease, his numbers will get back down to respectability. Equally important will be semi-competent defence in front of him, but Anderson has some flaws to correct, too.
Anderson's an enigma of a goaltender. We saw the best of him last season in Ottawa, but he's finished some seasons with a goals-against average closer to four than to two. That might be what we should expect this year considering the team around him, but you'd like to think Anderson can rebound well from an ugly start and get back on his game.
Expectations are low for the Senators this season, and for good reason. But these last two games, despite the final results, have actually left me somewhat pleasantly surprised --especially by the goal scoring. Even if the team continues losing games, it looks like they will indeed remain competitive within them, and hopefully the goals continue to bring fans out of their seats once in a while.