Although the two-week stoppage in the NHL schedule won't be a break for all Ottawa Senators, there are a number of things the whole team needs to do in order to carry their recent success through the final run of the season and into the playoffs. Five Senators players--Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Filip Kuba, Jarkko Ruutu, and Anton Volchenkov--will be playing for their respective countries, but the rest of the team will have the opportunity to rest and relax--and, perhaps most importantly of all, re-focus.
As good as it's been over the last month and a half, the Senators still have a few things they can spend their break working on to improve their chances for the end of the season.
Unfortunately, rest would be most useful for a few players who are in the Olympics, including particularly Alfredsson and Volchenkov. Still, a number of Senators can certainly use the time off to rest their bodies after putting up lots of ice time recently. Included in this list is Jason Spezza, who's led the team for much of their recent success and will be integral to any more success they have. And even though Volchenkov can't take time to rest, his defence partner Chris Phillips can use the break to tend to bruises he's most certainly built up shutting down the league's best players. Mike Fisher and Alex Kovalev has both been at the forefront of the Senators attack, and, although they're each on their country's taxi squad, the rest should help them restore their energy. Most importantly, though, is Brian Elliott: He's started 14 straight games, including a few back-to-back matchups, and has been huge in a lot of the Senators wins. He needs to keep that up, and should benefit from some time off to do so.
4. Get healthy
This applies to the players above who may have various ailments, including perhaps Spezza and Phillips, but more to Senators defencemen Erik Karlsson and Chris Campoli and forward Nick Foligno--and, of course, Pascal Leclaire. Although Leclaire is technically not injured, he's not healthy mentally, and he needs to be should Elliott falter in the Senators' net. Before he went down to injury, Karlsson was the Senators' best offensive defenceman, and was routinely leading the charge for the Senators. He also stabilized partner Kuba, who's appeared lost since Karlsson went down. He's expected to return to the lineup after the break, so that will boost the defence. Campoli is also missed on the blue line. Although he's not as valuable as Karlsson, the Senators depth fell off significantly after Alex Picard was traded, and Sunday's win over the New York Islanders made it evident that Derek Smith isn't ready for prime time yet, and Brian Lee barely is. Campoli worked well on the bottom pairing with Matt Carkner, and should fall back into that pairing when he returns. Finally, Foligno's return will just add another very strong forward to the mix in Ottawa, giving them one of the strongest bottom-six forward groups in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps the entire NHL.
3. Work on defence
Ottawa has allowed 14 goals against in the last four games heading into the break. In order to stay atop the Northeast Division they're going to have to improve on that significantly, and that starts with the defence corps. The return of Karlsson and Campoli should help, but Kuba has to improve his game significantly, at least on the defensive side of the puck. The Senators have had their success this season with back-checking forwards exerting back-pressure on the opposition, and they're going to have to re-commit to that over the break.
2. Find a defenceman
Obviously, the roster freeze is going to prevent any actual acquisition until the break is over, but nothing is preventing GM Bryan Murray from laying the groundwork for a trade to pick up a defenceman for the team. He doesn't want to negatively affect the team's chemistry so it won't likely be a huge deal, but there is little doubt Murray is looking to improve on the back-end. The break offers him a chance to contact 29 other GMs, find out who they're offering, and make his best pitch for their services.
1. Fix the powerplay
The Senators powerplay has been abysmal all season long. Going into the break, they stand 27 in the entire NHL in powerplay efficiency at a rate of 16.1 per cent, better than only the Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, and the Islanders. It's especially poor on the road, at 11%, which has to be a huge reason for the Senators terrible road record this season. On the plus side, Ottawa's been running at 27.2% over the last 12 games, so the powerplay is improving; that will have to continue, especially one the team gets into the playoffs.
All in all, it amounts to a continuation of their recent success through the end of the season and the playoffs, combined with perhaps a reinforcement or two for the blue line. With that, the Senators would be in great shape for the "second season" to begin.