The Ottawa Senators are currently 7-5-2 for 14 points, tied for 6th in the east with Toronto on points. As of right now, not a single non-playoff team in the east is over a point/game with the ninth place Lightning at 13 points in 13 games. Tampa Bay has also lost six in a row.
With Jason Spezza expected to return at the end of March, the Senators have 21 games left to play before April. At their current pace, the Lightning are on pace for 35 points after 35 games, the time coinciding with Spezza's expected return. The Flyers are currently in 10th but have not had a good start to the season, have an inconsistent goaltender, a patchwork defence and a one line forward group. I am not sure if they are much better than Ottawa right now. Keeping that in mind, while someone could make a run, it is just as plausible that the Leafs or Habs start to fade.
My assumption is that the eight seeded team will have 37 points after 35 games, which is only an 87 point pace over 82 games. However, the 15th place Sabres currently have 11 points in 14 games, so it isn't difficult to imagine a narrower gap this season.
All of that is to ask what do the Senators need to do to stay within touching distance until Spezza's return? To be within three points of 37 points, Ottawa needs to get 18 points in 21 games. A record of 7-10-4 would leave the Senators at 14-15-6 for 34 points after 35 games. Is 0.86 points/game plausible without Spezza and Karlsson?
The Columbus Blue Jackets were an atrocious team last year. They had 65 points in 82 games or 0.79 per game. The Senators have someone better than Steve Mason in net, and while they don't have a Rick Nash, the forward group has some potential. Kyle Turris hasn't shown he is ready to be a #1 centre, but he is still chugging along at almost a point/game. Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad and Stéphane Da Costa are not going to consistently have good games, but will they have enough good games for the Senators to win a third of their games? Can Craig Anderson keep it close allowing us to pick up loser points along the way?
Honestly, I don't know. Karlsson is such an incredible player, the best player in the NHL in my opinion, and the Senators system is completely designed around him. We will see tomorrow night in Toronto how the team responds and changes their style. The forward lines at practice this morning were:
Condra - Turris - Silfverberg
Zibanejad - Da Costa - Alfredsson
Daugavins - Smith - Neil
Dziurzynski (!!!!) - O'Brien - Grant (!!!)
Erik Karlsson has been replaced by Eric Gryba. It's the same thing, but with a 'c'. But it is 21 games. That is an incredibly short amount of time and a few lucky wins might be enough to keep the Senators in the race until Jason Spezza returns. We are not going to be entertaining to watch. It won't be pretty for many nights, but if the option is to wait out the next 34 games just watching prospects grow, or to hold out faint hope until Spezza's return, I am going to choose blind hope.