It's been another busy week for the Senators, with the annual Western Canadian roadshow in full effect as of this writing. Ottawa hasn't exactly had a lot of success out West, but escaping with three out of a possible four points from the first two games in Vancouver and Edmonton is nothing to sneeze at.
We've got lots to cover, so let's get to it:
Defensive Zone Play:
That Smith-Legwand-Neil line is just atrocious in the DZ. No spatial awareness.— Travis Yost (@TravisHeHateMe) November 14, 2014
Evaluating player performance in the defensive zone is one of the trickiest things to do in hockey. A good defensive player does more than just not commit egregious giveaways, they have to positively contribute to the retrieval of the puck, and the successful exit of the zone. The second part is actually a bit easier to see and assess since it relies on positive contributions. "Oh look, Erik Karlsson made a great break-out pass", for example. So we may somewhat underestimate the importance of a breakout pass, but at least it's there to be seen. Things like positioning, defensive awareness are much, much harder to evaluate. It's why we so often use shorthand like "Did the player hit another player? Yes? Okay, good defensively", or "Did they have a terrible giveaway? Yes? Bad defensively". But it's a trap that leads to players like Chris Neil, Zack Smith and David Legwand getting reputations as defensive stoppers. They rarely commit egregious givewaways, but they're often a step slow to their check, or to get in the lane to intercept a pass. Paul MacLean strikes me a a smart hockey guy who understands systems well enough, so it's still shocking to me that he thinks those three are the right group for key late game defensive assignments. It's true that they probably won't pass the puck into the slot blindly, but that's partly because they're not likely to get the puck back in the first place.
Deployment and Development:
One of the best stories of the young season has been the superlative play of the poorly named Kid Line (sidebar: if anyone can come up with a better name and get it to the talking heads before Saturday's game, it would be greatly appreciated). Along with their starring role, however, comes questions about their deployment. It's clear that the line is benefiting from playing fairly sheltered ice against mostly weaker competition, but it's working so why tinker? There's a certain logic to that, and if you believe young players need to be eased into the league I can buy the thinking.
Still, I can't help but wonder how it would hurt to at least experiment with increasing their workload. If the other lines were handling the tough competition and zone starts even remotely adequately I'd be of a different mind, but the fact is that they're not. I don't have much doubt that giving a couple more minutes of tough ice will bring down the Kid Line's possession metrics, but if the net effect on the team is positive I fail to see the harm. Or in the worse case scenario where it's a complete bomb, MacLean can simply revert back to things as they are today. It's a low cost gamble that might well pay big dividends.
Erik Karlsson is very fast:
This isn't a fully formed thought, just a reflection of a note I made about ten different times when I was watching last night's game. It's been written in more than a couple of places that Karlsson seems to be a bit more tentative and mistake prone this season that in the past. Part of that has to do with how he's being used, but it was nonetheless good to see him explode away from a few checks last night. One rush in particular where he flew end to end, walked the defenseman, went behind the night, passed it to Turris who then gave it back to him for a shot was particularly breath-taking. I know this isn't news to anyone, but it's good to remind ourselves every once in a while that we are watching a truly exceptional talent.
The Lack of Discipline
We're starting to see a troubling trend, never more so than in last night's game against the Oilers when all the usual suspects were involved. Chris Neil Penalty? Check. Zack Smih penalty? Check. Mark Borowiecki penalty? Check-mate. Last year's team was in no small part sunk by a terrible penalty differential.This roster isn't good enough at 5v5 to win games outright; the Senators need to win the special teams battle if they want to contend for the playoffs. The start of the year was a welcome reprieve from the usual antics of the aforementioned crew, but it's been getting ugly of late. Paul MacLean's supposed to be all about accountability, benching one of the primary culprits the next time they cross the line would be a good start.