The problem so far for Ottawa hasn't necessarily been that the whole team playing poorly. In fact, there have been times when different players were all playing some of their best hockey ever--the problem, though, is that those periods rarely overlapped. While the goaltenders were at their best, the skaters offered no offensive support; other times, our goalies have been abysmal and the team's been downright obliterated.
To illustrate my point, let's break up the season into four somewhat arbitrarily-divided parts based on the results of the games:
Part one, Oct. 8-18, 2010: 1-4-1 record, 12GF
This is what concerned so many of us early, the early-season struggles that saw the Senators so far below the Maple Leafs in the standings that you could have been forgiven for assuming they were upside-down. But they weren't, and it had as much to do with weak goal-scoring (average of two goals-for per game) as it did with weak goaltending.
Part two, Oct. 22-Nov. 13, 2010: 8-3 record, 33GF
This was the Sens' outstanding run so far, and pretty much the only reason they're still in the playoff picture. The team took 16 of a possible 22 points (a 0.720 point-percentage) while averaging three goals per game--not mind-blowing, but plenty more than through the rest of the season. Keys to the week? Daniel Alfredsson's 10P (6G, 4A), Sergei Gonchar's 10P (4G, 6A), Erik Karlsson's 10P (3G, 7A), and Alex Kovalev's 7P (5G, 2A).
Part three, Nov. 15-19, 2010: 0-3 record, 4GF
This was the short-lived terrible-goaltending period, in which the team's offensive problems were hugely overshadowed by the ridiculously terrible goaltending: The four goals-for was bad, but not nearly as bad as the 17 goals against. Forwards get a pass here, because there were worse problems at hand.
Part four, Nov. 22-Dec. 5, 2010: 3-4-1 record, 9GF
The most recent period, featuring the well-documented offensive impotence. It's remarkable the team was able to put up seven of a possible 16 points considering they averaged just 1.125 goals per game--the wins were literally despite the skaters on the team (Alfredsson: 1P, Gonchar: 1P, Spezza: 1P, Karlsson: 1P). Thanks for whatever small success the Senators got goes to the goaltenders; Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire more than made up for the previous segment.
Through all of it, though, a fairly consistent problem has emerged: A distinct lack of goal scoring. It's been especially prevalent in the most recent portion of the season, but through the whole season Ottawa's only scored 61 goals and averaging 2.18 goals per game--both 27th in the 30-team league.
So can the Senators right their ship? My answer is yes--but the key word is that they can, not necessarily that they will. The Sens have shown flashes of offensive skills, with almost every one of the top-six forwards and both the top defenceman showing that they are still able to put up points.
Two questions remain: First and foremost, how long will Ottawa's goaltenders continue to play as well as they have been? Either of them have put together streaks of good games, but have been as streaky as you can imagine. And secondly, even if the goaltenders are able to maintain their solid play, will the forward group--dominated by players who are in the twilight of their careers, are just beginning and not yet proven, or are injury-prone (or some combination thereof)--be able to provide the offence they need to actually put up wins and start climbing back up the standings?