If you've noticed that a lot of Ottawa Senators games have been running long this season, there's a good reason for that: the Senators currently lead the league in overtime appearances with 13. In that time, they've actually compiled a very respectable overtime/shootout record, with 8 wins and 5 losses in extra time (including a 4-2 record in the shoot out).
Fans should be happy that the Senators are pushing games to OT at all, given that they are often trailing in the game before pushing it to extra time: as of January 5th, the Senators had led after the first period just 9 times this season. They had trailed after the first period 18 times. Fans should probably also be content with the Senators' rather impressive record in extra time -- they're third in OT wins, just after New Jersey and Colorado who have ridiculous 10-2 and 10-1 records, respectively.
Yet every time the Senators allow a game to go into overtime, they're giving up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.Of the Senators 8 overtime wins, 6 have been against Eastern Conference teams. This shouldn't be surprising -- teams play more games against their own conference, so they're bound to have more overtime games against their conference. But the problem lies with the extra point given to overtime losses -- when Ottawa waits until OT to put a team away, that team continues to climb in the standings along with Ottawa.
Ottawa's overtime wins within their conference have been against NJ, BUF (2), FLA, NYR, and CAR. At the time of writing, the Devils sit one point behind the Senators in the standings with a game in hand. The Sabres sit five points behind the Senators with a game in hand. The Panthers are two points ahead with a game in hand. Carolina is... heh, never mind.
If this trend continues for the rest of the season, other Eastern Conference teams will have gained 12 points simply by losing to the Senators in extra time -- and this isn't including the points lost by the Senators losing in shootouts or in overtime.
At the end of the 2010-2011 season, the difference between the 8th place team and the 9th place team in either conference was 2 points. In 2009-10, the difference in the Eastern Conference was a single point. In 2008-09? No points separated the 8th and 9th place Eastern Conference teams. 2007-08 saw 2 points separate 8th and 9th place in the East. Clearly, every point counts in the playoff race.
So what should the Senators do about this? Aside from the obvious (win earlier, damn it!), there's not much they can do. If the Sens could win in regulation, they certainly would. Unfortunately, they're a team that trails first more frequently than they score first, and in all honesty, have relied on a lot of luck to sit in a playoff spot right now. Still, if the Senators end up missing out on a playoff spot by one point to the Buffalo Sabres, those extra overtime points will certainly sting.
(Ed. note: this article was written last week and was accidentally published before being updated, and therefore, all stats and standings reflect how they were on January 5th. Sorry for the confusion)