The 2013 schedule was condensed and unlikely to be repeated (until the next lockout). Given the humorlessly insane injuries Ottawa had, it really was the least of Ottawa's problem. However the coming season condensed to a degree by the Olympics has issues of its own. Appearance seem to suggest a few mountains and valleys for the Senators to traverse. So I've decided to dissect the schedule and gauge Ottawa's chances.
October 4th-15th: Season Starting Road Trip.
Ottawa will begin the season with back-to-back divisional games against Buffalo and Toronto followed immediately by the now annual games against the California/Phoenix teams. Well by no means do or die, it is the harshest stretch of the season until right around Christmas and coming out of it at 0.500 or better should be considered a success. Ottawa will not play again in the Western time zone until the Heritage classic in March
October 16th-31st: Things do not exactly get better.
Ottawa will have its home opener against New Jersey and will play Edmonton 2 days later to segway between tough stretches. For the rest of the month they will play tough opponents (Wings/Ducks/Sharks/Blackhawks). Given what is ahead, finishing the month with a 0.500 record should be considered successful.
November: Now we are talking.
Ottawa will 14 games in November (9 at home, 3 of the road games are in 1 road trip) and of the match-ups only 4 opponents (Boston, Detroit, Vancouver, Montreal) can be considered tough. This is a month were Ottawa must eat up the points against their opponents, an 0.600 record or better for the month is completely feasible and likely necessary for Ottawa to firmly contend for a playoff spot.
December 1st-21st: Balanced Attack
This stretch features half a dozen very winnable games and a half dozen decent opponents. It is not absolutely crucial that Ottawa dominates in this stretch, but winning here will make finishing the year on a high note much easier.
December 22nd-31st: Big Guns for Christmas
Ottawa will have four games during the holiday season, 1 against the Pens, and two against the Bruins, with the Caps as a palate cleanser. Obviously hope for 4-0, but would be very happy with 2-2 or 2-1-1 given the opponents.
January: Remember the last January Ottawa had in a full season? Let's go for something like that.
Ottawa will play 12 games, only two against a tough opponent (both against Montreal). They will also have 2 four game road trips, but coming out of each set 3-1 is very doable. Like November, this is a month where Ottawa has to amass points...hard.
February: Could be a Long Month
Ottawa will play 5 games before the Olympic break and 1 after. It also features Ottawa's 2nd hardest stretch of the year where they play Toronto/Pittsburgh/Blues and Boston on the road, with only a home game against Buffalo as a reprieve. They will finish off the month at home against Detroit.
March 1st-14th: Western Swing and Some Rest.
Ottawa will play all Western Canadian teams (including the classic) in a span of 8 days, followed by a home game against Nashville on the 10th. It will also feature only 2 games in 9 days, a period which Ottawa must rest as they will only have 2-2 day breaks for the rest of the season.
March 15th-31st: Crunch Time
Ottawa will play ten games in this stretch of 16 days with only Montreal and Chicago as tough opponents. How they play here will likely either cement their spot in the playoffs or induce panic. This stretch does not exactly offer many clear "gimme" games, but outside of the aforementioned two has no notable opponents either.
April Until Playoffs:
Ottawa will play two home games against divisional opponents (Montreal/Toronto) and the rest of the opponents feature every former Atlantic division team except Philadelphia. If Ottawa is fighting for a spot in April, a record of 5-2 or 4-3 is well within reach.
To Sum Up:
Now I am aware of how approaching the schedule before the season starts has clear analytic faults. Injuries, Hot Goaltending, Rookies and Cinderella stories could flip some of the predictions on their head. However I intentionally made my analysis cynical, and assumed Ottawa projects as the 3rd/4th best team in the conference if relatively healthy. Boston and Pittsburgh are the top teams until proven otherwise. The Metropolitan division outside of the Pens is spotty at best and it can be virtually guaranteed that one if not both wildcard spots will come from the the Atlantic division:
My projected playoffs contenders,
Metropolitan: 1) Pens, 2) Rangers followed by a battle between Isles/Philly for 3/4
Atlantic: 1) Boston 2/3 Ottawa/Montreal 4) Detroit 5) Toronto
I will fully admit three major assumptions and one wildcard.
1. I believe Montreal and Toronto overachieved, but Montreal will not regress drastically whereas the Leafs have frankly gotten worse. A month later and I still do not know how one justifies replacing Grabo/Macarthur with Clarkson as an upgrade in any conceivable way or how Bernier can be dramatically better than how Reimer played.
2. Let us be realistic with Detroit, they made lateral moves in terms of production( Alfie-Brunner.... Weiss-Filpula) and despite having a similar record and man games lost to injury to Ottawa...Detriot's entire top six played no less than 41 games. They will do some damage in the season, but will not contend for the top of the division.
3. Washington won 17 of its 27 wins against the South-Least last year ( IE only lost 3 times against the division), only one former opponent remains (Carolina) They will be in trouble.
They have the firepower to make a run at the playoffs, but whether they have the team defence/goaltending (Hope Bishop was drinking from Lehner's water bottle) to contend over the season is another question entirely.