As the first full week of 2015 comes to an end, so does the first half of the NHL season. The Sens continue their struggles, but all hope is not lost yet. Right? Let's take a look at some of the issues surrounding the Senators this week.
1) Lazar's Return
After winning a gold medal as captain of Team Canada in the IIHF World Junior Championship, Curtis Lazar is back with the Senators. While he is travelling with the team, he has not played with them yet.
When the team chose to send him to the World Juniors, the general consensus was that this was a good move for his development. It looks, so far, like this may be the case. Throughout the two-week tournament, a popular topic of conversation was Lazar's leadership and professionalism as Canada's captain. He put up some big goals, and found chemistry with this year's predicted first overall pick, Connor McDavid.
Now that he's back with the Sens, he seems to have regained some of the confidence that he had at the beginning of the year. Well, in media interview anyways. Sure, he spent the last two weeks playing with much younger, less developed players. But the kind of experience that comes from leading Canada to gold, on Canadian soil, will most likely give him some much needed confidence that he can bring to his play here in Ottawa.
2) Road Trip
Approaching the half-way point of the season, the Sens are six points out of the last wild card playoff spot in the East. They are in the middle of a four-game road trip, which has them facing Philadelphia, Colorado, Arizona and Dallas. While there is a lot of hockey left to play this season, this road trip against teams at an equal or lower position in the standings is a key point in their season. Things have not gone in favour of the Sens, as they grabbed only one point in the first two games so far.
If they can get some wins on this road trip, who knows what it will do for the team's confidence and their performance in the remainder of the season. If not, then management clearly has some changes to make in hopes of setting the team up for success in the future. The trade deadline is not far out, and now is the time that Murray and his team need to decide what changes are needed going forward. This road trip could be a turning point for the Sens, either on the ice or on the roster.
3) Power Play
Among the numerous struggles for the Senators this season, the power play seems to be the biggest one as of late. The team is on an 0/28 power-play drought. They came close on Sunday against Tampa Bay, when Mark Stone scored just two seconds after the power play ended. As of right now, they sit at 21st in the league for power play efficiency, with 16.1 power-play percentage. They are falling, and they are falling fast.
Maybe it's bad luck, maybe it's poor power-play units or player choices. NKB mentioned the power-play struggles in last week's Five Thoughts, and made some good points regarding the team's dependence on Erik Karlsson. Regardless of the reasons, the Sens need to find a way to score on the man advantage if they have any chance of competing for a playoff spot this season.
4) Craig Anderson
The one ray of sunshine on this otherwise cloudy season has been Craig Anderson and his outstanding play. (Note: He may have been pulled last night against Colorado, but it was the first time that the Sens have made a goalie change this season. Even though it's hard to blame him for some of the goals he allowed, it was still the first "bad game" we've seen from him. We can let it slide).
As of Thursday, his .929 save percentage had him tied with Pekka Rinne for fourth in the league. After last night, his save percentage sits at .926, which is still very good. He has returned to the Anderson of 2012 and 2013, when he single-handedly won games for this team. Unfortunately, the team is not giving him the support he needs. He has maintained composure in front of the media so far, giving professional answers to all their questions, and never throwing the team under the bus (before last night, anyways).
So the question is: What does the team do with Anderson this season? His trade value is high right now, and the trade deadline is quickly approaching. If management wants to give this team the assets they need to turn things around in the coming seasons, trading him might be the best option. There are a few playoff-bound teams who could use a solid goaltender to put them over the edge as a contender.
If Robin Lehner is the goalie of the future, is now the time to trade Anderson?
Now that 2015 is here, Sens' management can start talking to pending restricted free agents. Five key players on the team will be RFAs this summer: Alex Chiasson, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
We'll look further into each of these players in the coming weeks. But we would love to get your thoughts on who might get signed first.