We're a little ways past the mid-way point of the season, but we've got a good opportunity to look back on the first half of the season and grade the performance of the Ottawa Senators so far. As a team, Ottawa's probably surpassed quite a few expectations, and they've done it with plenty of significant injuries to significant players: Most recently, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, but don't forget about the fairly long-term absences of Pascal Leclaire, Filip Kuba,Anton Volchenkov, Chris Neil, and a few others.
Group success aside, however, it's important to look at the individuals who are responsible for the lion's share of the Senators' current standing, and also to find out who's got to pull up their socks. The forwards got their grades yesterday, and we're dishing out some special awards early next week, but for today we'll take a look at the defence and goaltenders, starting with...
Filip Kuba - D-
#17 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Dec 29, 1976
|2009 - Filip Kuba||35||3||13||16||-2||16||2||0||0||0||66||4.5|
It's fairly remarkable that Kuba has put up a decent number of points, considering how downright awful his play has seemed at times--especially recently. He rebounded from an early-season injury with some decent games early, but fell so far from his top form that the Senators' entire defence corps has felt the reverberations of it. Kuba's expected to lead this team from the back-end with good offensive vision and solid, if not steller, defensive play; neither have been present with enough consistency so far this year.
Chris Phillips - A+
#4 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Mar 09, 1978
|2009 - Chris Phillips||43||3||9||12||8||29||0||1||0||0||45||6.7|
One of the brightest spots on the Sens lineup this season has been Phillips, whose defensive play has been downright outstanding. He's among the team leaders in plus/minus despite routinely lining up against the opponent's best players, and is solid on the top penalty-killing unit. Notably, though, has been Phillips' growth offensively this season: He gets some powerplay time, and although his points are modest, he routinely makes smart offensive moves to keep plays alive and joins the rush when it's a good idea.
Anton Volchenkov - A+
#24 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Feb 25, 1982
|2009 - Anton Volchenkov||29||3||8||11||11||18||0||0||0||0||33||9.1|
Android's probably playing some of the best hockey of his career right now, perhaps because it's a contract year or because it's an Olympic year, but it's definitely been a huge part of the Senators' success so far. Like Phillips, he's got a great plus/minus despite playing the opposition's best, and is also a huge part of the penalty kill. He's also well on his way to career highs in goals, assists, and points, if he keeps going the way he's going. He's also got his hits going again, and is one of few players in the league who can routinely throw a hip-check without letting opponent's get by him--his welcome-wagon hip-checks have been especially memorable. He's got 80 hits (72 hits in the league) on the year and 76 blocked shots (30th in the league), even though he's missed 14 games to injury. He almost deserves an A++, but I decided to stick with the standard grading system.
Erik Karlsson - C+
#65 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
May 31, 1990
|2009 - Erik Karlsson||26||1||6||7||-10||12||0||0||0||0||40||2.5|
It's certainly been an up-and-down season for Karlsson, literally and emotionally. He was sent to the AHL after starting in the NHL, and was scratched for a few games recently, but it looks like it was a mistake to expect him to step into top-pairing minutes in the NHL as a 19-year-old undersized defender. Still, his improvement has been marked, and should continue as the season goes on.
Alexandre Picard - C-
#45 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Jul 05, 1985
|2009 - Alexandre Picard||36||4||10||14||0||16||1||0||1||0||53||7.5|
Picard has earned the trust of Senators coach Cory Clouston this season, even if he's earned the hatred of a large segment of Senators fans due to his inconsistent play on the season. (Note: That's a different Alex Picard photo'd.) But he's put up decent points in limited time this season, developed some chemistry with on-again, off-again partner Matt Carkner, and when he's good he's pretty good, but when he's bad he's awful.
Chris Campoli - F
#14 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Jul 09, 1984
|2009 - Chris Campoli||37||2||10||12||0||14||1||0||0||0||34||5.9|
A lot was expected of Campoli when he was brought in last season, and he hasn't brought much of anything this season. A couple goals and only three powerplay points (1PPG, 2PPA) just isn't cutting it for the fifth-year pro. He's been benched for games, although he responded with a positive outlook on playing winger, but he's certainly got more to do going into this off-season without a contract. On the plus side, Campoli's shown flashes of the puck-mover Ottawa thought they acquired at the deadline in 2009, and he has the skills to rebound from a poor first half of the season.
Matt Carkner - A
#39 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Nov 03, 1980
|2009 - Matt Carkner||43||2||5||7||0||114||0||0||0||0||49||4.1|
Very few people thought Carkner had much of a chance of breaking the NHL roster going into the season, myself included, but he's very quickly grown into one of the fan favourites this season. He'll drop the gloves with anyone, and fares well against even the premiere heavyweights, but ensures that he doesn't unduly penalize the team by sitting in the sin bin. He's a stand-in for Phillips and Volchenkov in defensive situations, and has a decent number of points on the year considering what was expected of him. By all counts, he's far surpassed expectations.
Pascal Leclaire - C
#33 / Goalie / Ottawa Senators
Nov 07, 1982
|2009 - Pascal Leclaire||23||1267||11||7||60||2.84||569||509||.895||0|
Inconsistency in the Senators net was supposed to end when Leclaire joined the team, but it hasn't yet. Although he's got some great games bringing his mark up, he's also got some awful games bringing it down. Most frustrating, though, are the good games that are too often ruined by a soft, momentum-sapping goal or two. As long as he can fend off further injury, he'll get plenty of starts in the second half, and will have to find himself a rhythm if the Senators are going to stay in their playoff spot through the end of the year.
Brian Elliott - C
#30 / Goalie / Ottawa Senators
Apr 09, 1985
|2009 - Brian Elliott||24||1280||10||10||61||2.86||596||535||.898||2|
Similar to Leclaire, Elliott's had some good games--including two shutouts--but he's also had some bad games, and he's allowed far too many deflatingly soft goals to earn a good grade so far. To take advantage of any openings he may have with Leclaire struggling, Elliott's going to have to gain some measure of consistency, and work on controlling rebounds--his defence aren't helpful in clearing pucks and traffic from the front of the net, so Elliott has to suffocate defensive-zone play by covering the puck whenever possible, and can't allow more weak goals to sully otherwise good efforts.