The Ottawa Senators are off to a 5-2-0 start, which is good for first in the Northeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, this is a far better result than pretty much anyone could have predicted. While it's far too early to start making assumptions about the future of the season based on seven games, one can certainly examine how the Senators have earned their victories thus far.
Let's face it: most players on the Senators had an off-year last season. Thankfully, that's not the case this year. First and foremost, Mike Fisher is second on the team with 6 points, and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. He's hitting, passing, and scoring with more ease than he has in years. Same thing for Chris Neil, who is playing with a renewed vigor I did not expect to see. Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips are also playing better than they have in years, being the shutdown tandem that the Senators so desperately need.
After seven games, only three Senators players don't have points, and one of those is Filip Kuba, who has only played one game this season due to injury. Ottawa is winning games because all four forward lines are a threat, particularly the top two. It's hard to know which is the first line and which is the second, because they are both dangerous. True, the Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Jonathan Cheechoo line has combined for less points than the Alex Kovalev - Fisher - Daniel Alfredsson line, but both have shown great chemistry and created myriad scoring chances.
Ottawa is killing penalties with the utmost of ease, running at an impressive 93.1% efficiency. That's good enough for second in the league, behind only Columbus. How is it so effective? The team is playing very sound positionally, blocking a ridiculous amount of shots, and playing with confidence in their goaltender. Which brings me to...
There is little doubt that a lot of the Senators' success can be placed on the shoulders of Pascal Leclaire, who has made some extremely difficult saves by being one of the quickest goalies I've ever seen. His lateral movement is unbelievable, and has helped him earn a 2.18 GAA and .918 SV%. Brian Elliott was also very solid in his one start, providing perhaps the best goaltending duo in modern Senators' history.
Heart, Hustle, Soul, and other Gatorade Buzzwords
Ottawa is winning games with Cory Clouston's honest, hardworking system, which requires a great amount of effort every night. The players have responded, with a strong forecheck and constant sacrificing of the body. Unsurprisingly, Anton Volchenkov is second in the league in blocked shots with an appropriate 24. But he's been able to share the burden, as newcomer (and fan favourite) Matt Carkner has recorded 19 blocked shots, good for 7th in the league. Meanwhile, Mike Fisher is fifth among forwards with 9 blocks. Even though it's a horribly skewed and unreliable statistic, Chris Neil is third in the league with 32 hits.
The Easiest Schedule in the NHL
Hey, let's not kid ourselves: the Ottawa Senators have had the luxury of an extremely easy schedule thus far. Four of their wins came against teams who didn't make the playoffs last year (TOR, ATL, TB, NYI), while the fifth came against a team with a losing record (MTL). The only team they beat with a winning record is the surprisingly hot Atlanta Thrashers, while the Senators have lost in their only two games against stronger teams in the conference (NYR, PIT). Still, these are games that the Sens need to win and they're finding ways to do so. Look around the NHL, and you'll find that most teams are not getting consistent wins against the easier opponents, which could come back to haunt them later on in the year.