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Hard to Be Positive About 2015-16 Ottawa Senators

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Though their record might not show it, the Ottawa Senators are in trouble.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Paying attention solely to the commotion of distraught fans and critics claiming the sky is falling in the nation's capital, a bystander would come to the conclusion that the Ottawa Senators must be somewhere near the bottom of the league a month and a half into the season.

They're not, though. Quite the opposite.

The Senators currently hold one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. And they're actually second in the Atlantic Division.

Three games above .500 halfway through November, their record would have you think everything's going as planned. But the skeptics are right. Ottawa should find themselves rather lucky to be 8-5-5 after 18 games.

There's much to worry about.

***

It might sound strange, but the Senators are playing poorly at the best of times. Fortunately, the first couple months of the season bring average opponents, but once the calendar hits December, the match-ups won't be so friendly until the All-Star Break.

In October and November, the Senators play 11 teams currently in the playoffs and 12 that are not. In December and January, they'll play 17 currently in the playoffs and 10 that are not.

If there was anytime to be working out kinks, getting all the bugs out, it would be right now. Things would be a lot worse if it wasn't for a favourable schedule.

We've already covered the record side of things in detail, so there probably isn't much more to talk about in the win-loss columns.

Oh, right.

Yes, tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Ducks (it seems really weird stating that last team), Ottawa is dead last in regulation and overtime wins. Which also means they are behind the Carolina Hurricanes and the Connor-McDavid-less Edmonton Oilers.

If not for the shootout and the loser point, the Senators would be borderline tanking with 10 points in 18 games. It's no secret that they have been subpar in the first 60 minutes of games. While Ottawa has taken part in six shootouts, there are 11 teams that have yet to appear in a single one.

Then there are the possession numbers. They have been horrendously outshot this year.

Possession stats have been effectively determining long-term success and failure since they first hit the scene a number of years ago, and that doesn't bode well for Ottawa. Last season, eight of the bottom nine teams in CorsiFor% missed the playoffs.

The Senators haven't been outplaying teams in the slightest. We've seen spurts of great play, but in most games they tend to barely hang on until the third period horn blasts and they've managed to pull off at least a point. Everything about the team's success seems to be unsustainable. If not for the stellar play of Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond (boy, we tend to echo that a lot), this team could be in serious trouble.

When you allow plenty of shots, chances are, some of them are bound to go in. And that's what has lead to the Senators being 25th in goals against, allowing an average of 3.00 pucks to slip past the goal line every game, resulting in a -3 goals for ratio.

Aiding the lacklustre goal differential is a absence of discipline and a poor penalty kill.

The Senators have taken 74 minor penalties, good enough for 23rd in the NHL. To follow that up, they've allowed 16 goals on the penalty kill and carry a 74.6% success rate on the PK, tied for 28th in the league only ahead of the Boston Bruins.

They're shooting themselves in the foot and not properly attending to the wound.

One of the biggest concerns coming into the season has now turned out to be the disaster many predicted would come to fruition in the early stages. Ottawa's defense corps has been exposed for what the truly are: a blue line with a plethora of flaws, too many to count when looking past the first pairing of Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot.

And management is finally admitting that their defensive situation might be a problem. Well, sort of.

"We expect more from Wiercioch and Cowen, without a doubt. If we’re trying to fill one spot, either Patrick or Jared have to take a step and demand to get that role and take advantage of it." - Bryan Murray. Ottawa Citizen.

It's fine to ask for more out of Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen, but to not mention Cody Ceci and Mark Borowiecki seems blatantly oblivious to plainly worse performances.

When away from his normal partner, Wiercioch excels greatly while Ceci falls well short of the mark. That can't be said about the team's bottom pairing, as they have both struggled whether together or apart.

But head coach Dave Cameron has yet to bench any of Ceci, Cowen or Borowiecki.

Which brings us to our final problem.

The lineup choices Cameron has made this season have been - for lack of a kinder word - stubborn. Chris Wideman has been a healthy scratch 11 times and only deployed in a game once that involved Cameron scratching another player in favour of him. Since Cowen has been out with an injury, and the head coach has had no choice but to play Wideman, the 25-year-old has three goals in his last four games and is proving to be a much needed improvement on the back end.

Also in the category of questionable scratches has been World Championship gold medalist Patrick Wiercioch, who, you could argue quite efficiently, has been the team's third best Dman.

On Monday, Cameron decided to mix up the forward lines in the third period to try and find chemistry and a much needed offensive spark, all the while having one of the team's most skilled players in the press box. Though he's only played 13 career NHL games, with low deployment Prince has shown he is a potential top-six talent. The 23-year-old Rochester native even made the fourth line look serviceable for a few nights.

Since the start of the season, he's sat seven games. Chris Neil and Zack Smith have combined for one healthy scratch.

Scratching Prince in favour of underachieving bottom-six players just feels too similar to Paul MacLean's benching of Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone early last season. It's easier to say that knowing how things turned out, but Prince is a much more skilled player than anyone being given minutes on the third and fourth line and it seems counterintuitive to give him a bird's eye view every game.

***

The good news? The Atlantic Division is horrible and a slightly above average team could be able to grab the final of three guaranteed playoff positions. It looks like the Metropolitan Division might have five teams powerful enough to take both wildcards.

The Senators can turn their faulty play around. Clarke MacArthur is bound to return from his concussion sometime soon and apparently Bryan Murray is looking into trading for a top-four defenseman, so maybe there's a way out of this situation.

Ottawa can only hang on for dear life until the shootout for so long, though. Sooner or later, something is going to give.