Well, these are depressing times. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in second place. At least the Sens are… (scrolls down, ever downwards, down the Eastern Conference standings... drums in the deep)...
Time to panic! An inexperienced defense, a lack of secondary scoring, and goaltending which is looking more and more average as each game passes tends to have this effect on hockey fans. I am here to tell you why it is not time to panic. Not yet, anyways.
First off, with what I feel is likely the most significant reason for the Senators' slow start, is scheduling. Starting the year with a 6 game road trip, only to be met at home by the elite teams of this early NHL season, is not a great way to accumulate a winning record out of the gates for any team.
Well, there is some good news, everyone!
While November included games against powerful opponents such as the Leafs, Kings, Sharks (x2), Ducks (x2), Coyotes, Red Wings, and the Balrogs, November will be much more manageable. Given the initial road trip, and the fact that 10 of the 12 games played in October were against the teams listed above, is it really surprising that the Sens haven't managed to find their groove? I think not. November includes games against 3 or 4 top teams, depending on how you view them (are the Canucks really a top team anymore?), and 10 or 11 games which seem easily winnable given the opponents' reputations.
Let us keep in mind that the only real differences between last year's extremely successful defense corps and this year's whipping boys are: 1) an ancient version of Sergei Gonchar, 2) good luck charm Andre Benoit, 3) bad luck charm Mike Lundin, and 4) the addition of "uh-oh" Joe Corvo. Oh, and the best defenseman in the world... and a 6'5", quite talented young defenseman in Jared Cowen, both of whom were not around for much of the Senators success last season. To push the panic button now, when our defense has arguably improved on paper since last year, would be silly. If the Paulrus can take a defense corps of Methot, Phillips, Gonchar, Wiercioch, Benoit, Gryba, and Lundin, and grab a playoff spot like he did last season, then he has the moustache magic to make the current iteration work well enough to win. Let's give the defense time to, you know, completely rework all of their strategies and tendencies, considering that there is this whole "talent" thing to incorporate this season.
The same logic goes for the forwards: time to mesh, and a sane schedule, should help, considering the turnover from last season. Out are Alfredsson, Latendresse, Silfverberg, O'brien and Regin. In are Ryan, MacArthur, Pageau (for now), Conacher, and, counting injuries from last season, Michalek and Spezza.
Let's look at it another way: for most of the season last year, the Sens won consistently without 5 of the top 6 forwards who are currently on the depth chart. The team has arguably improved in terms of talent since that time, so to say that this team cannot win as is would be a stretch.
Since the trade deadline last year, the roster for positional players has changed to the point that only 9 players remain on the current roster from the team that produced very respectable regular season results last season. New since then are Michalek, Spezza, Ryan, MacArthur, Conacher, Pageau, Karlsson, Cowen, and Corvo. Counting all of the outgoing transactions along with the ingoing, there have been 17 personnel changes since last year’s trade deadline, not including goaltender Ben Bishop’s departure (would Big Ben count as two transactions?). So, they have the roster consistency of an expansion team on expansion draft day. How about we give them a little bit of time to figure things out, especially considering that a few of them haven’t played much hockey in the past 18 months due to injury?
If a team with a top line of Turris, Ancient Alfredsson, and whoever played on the left wing last year (Bill Muckalt?) can get the Senators into the playoffs, then the team as it is now should end up in the top 4 in the conference by the end of the season without too much of an issue. Let’s give them some time to click, and I’m sure we will be rewarded for our current suffering.
I, for one, would not be surprised if the turnaround happens throughout the month of November. The easier schedule starts this week, and continues into December, when the relative difficulty level gravitates to somewhere in between October and November. I am very much expecting the Sens to be rolling by the time December comes around.
Alfredsson the Grey would be handy for taking one for the team and fighting the Balrog single handedly, though. Limiting the Blackhawks passing game will no doubt be key: