Let the good times roll, eh Sens fans? It was a bit of a white knuckle week with the wins in both Dallas and Colorado probably taking years off my life, but the team is 12-5-5 and off to their best start in years. It hasn't always been pretty but when the team is winning there'll be lots of positive stories to pick from, including some previously unsung heroes. Among those unsung heroes is our first topic:
Shane Prince Forces his Way Into the Sens Line-up
Shane Prince was never going to be the type of can't-miss prospect for whom a spot was reserved in the NHL. Prince is, after all, generously listed at 5"11 and is viewed by most as an offense-first guy. I'm not sure the characterizations of his defensive game are entirely fair, and they're awfully reminiscent of what was said about Mike Hoffman as recently as last year, but the label's stuck nonetheless. Even though the NHL has evolved its thinking on roster construction in recent years, there's still a hesitancy from many coaches to give players who are perceived as offense-oriented a chance if they aren't scoring. Until Wednesday night, this was Shane Prince's problem: he's supposed to score, so if he isn't scoring then what's his role? Well, my hope is that now that he's broken through the point is moot but it's worth noting that Prince's breakthrough didn't come out of nowhere -- he's one of only three Senators forwards with a CF% north of 50 (Mark Stone and Kyle Turris are the other two). He's also one of only four forwards for whom the Senators get more than 50% of the scoring chances when he's on the ice (Stone and Turris appear here again, with Hoffman rounding out the list).
The take-away is this: the point scoring break-out will get the headlines, and probably curry enough favour with Dave Cameron to secure a spot in the line-up for the foreseeable future, but Prince had long before more than earned his spot -- role be damned.
Speaking of talented offensive players who had to earn their way into the line-up via a scoring streak, Mike Hoffman is at it again. After a mini-slump of sorts, the winger has five points in his last three games and is now fourth in the entire NHL in 5v5 scoring rate. A run like the one Hoffman's been on usually comes without reservation, but in this particular case Sens' management are probably somewhat regretting their decision to offer him just a one-year contract in the off-season; it now seems inevitable that we're heading towards a difficult contract negotiation next summer. This is an entirely unfounded hunch, but if Hoffman continues his torrid pace I wouldn't be all that surprised to hear his names surfaced in trade rumours -- the Sens desperately need another top end defender and a guy like Hoffman is absolutely the ticket to getting that piece.
The struggle for shot-generation
It's been a popular trope in the Sens-verse of late to debate whether the team is actually playing well or are just the beneficiaries of the PDO-faeries. On that topic I doubt anyone's mind is going to be changed any time soon, but there's something about the way the Sens have been outshot that's interesting: their shot generation has dried up compared to their historical output. Everyone seems to agree that the team is giving up a lot of shots, and they certainly are, but that was a characteristic of last year's squad as well (and the year before that, and the year before that). Andrew Hammond's hamburger-fueled madness aside, a large part of the reason that the Sens made their miracle run was that they were consistently out-playing teams; their CF% was borderline top ten after Dave Cameron took over from Paul MacLean. They were able to more than break even by throwing an absurd amount of rubber at the net. But that's something that's meaningfully changed this season. During Paul Maclean's tenure as head coach, from 2011-12 until the day he was fired, the Ottawa Senators led the entire NHL in shot attempts per 60 at 5v5. They fired a lot of pucks at the net, all the time. Conversely, this year they rank 24th in the league with 28.3 shots per game -- that's down from 31.0 per game last year and 32.8 the year before that.
When Paul Maclean was fired, it was clear to everyone that the team simply gave up too many shots. Dave Cameron's teams have done better purely in that regard, but the evaporation of the team's offensive drive is something of a mystery (and hopefully not a by-product of a systems change).
Craig Anderson Continues to Resist Father Time
It feels like just two weeks ago that Craig Anderson was seemingly about to be embroiled in another goalie controversy -- oh wait it was? Huh. How about that. Before Hammond was hurt, again, Anderson had been in something of a funk and some voices were agitating for a return of the Hamburglar. Father Time remains undefeated, and for those of us who are somewhat skeptical of Anderson's staying power at age 34 the start to this year seemed like a bad omen. But lo and behold, Andy's all the way back to a .920 save percentage. He was one of the only reasons the Sens didn't cough up a three goal lead on Wednesday to the Avalanche and if you're the visual type he did this on Tuesday:
The continued good play of Andrew Hammond has somewhat stabilized Ottawa's goaltending situation, but the reality is that this team will only go as far as one Craig Anderson can carry them. For now, at least, it doesn't seem like it's too much to bear.
End of season prediction
We'll end this week's piece with a poll. Sens fan, and friend of the blog, Micah McCurdy had his work featured over at TSN.ca in a piece looking at end of season projections. According to the latest outputs from Micah's model Oscar, the Sens are projected to finish third in the Atlantic Division with 94 points. Given their hot start, it won't take much more than .500 hockey for the sens to hit that mark the rest of the way. So, what do you think? Where will the Sens end up?
Thanks for reading!