To break the fourth wall for a moment here, one of the not-so-fun things about writing the Five Thoughts piece is that most of the time the Sens play on a Thursday evening. This is a problem you see because if you're like me, and I pray you're not, this means you can't stand the idea of any of your writing being outdated by the time it goes live. What this means in a practical sense is that I often can't bring myself to write this feature until I know the outcome of the Thursday night game. This was even more true for today's edition of Five Thoughts. Right now, we're all on cloud nine but things could have gone so, so differently. This whole run could have gone so differently, and you don't need me to tell you how unlikely it was. That said it's still fun to look back on the numbers.
Fun with numbers (last 30 games):
Goals for: 93 (3.1 goals/game)
Goals against: 67 (2.2 goals/game)
Score-adjusted Corsi 5v5: 52.2%
There's lots of ways to read those numbers, particularly the last one (PDO). On the one hand, it's fair to say Ottawa's been getting a bit more than their share of the puck luck. On the other hand, a shot attempt (Corsi) share of 52.2% at 5v5 would land the Sens in the top 10 in the league over that time frame. Even if you don't believe they're as good as that 22-4-4 mark indicates, they've been playing like a play-off team over that same stretch. Sens fans should take a lot of comfort in that. This isn't all smoke and mirrors.
The struggles of Bobby Ryan
One player who hasn't quite been along for the ride of late is Bobby Ryan. Ryan's collected a grand total of five points, including only one solitary goal, over the last eighteen games. He's never been a player that drives play, but he's historically been a near-elite point scorer. Plenty of folks have speculated that there's something ailing the winger, but the Sens franchise remains tight-lipped as ever when it comes to player injuries. If Ryan was playing with a broken hand or some similar injury, it would go a long way to explaining why so many pucks seem to be bouncing off of his stick of late. In the short term the team's been able to overcome his lack of production, but for the Sens to succeed as more than just a fringe play-off team they need more out of Bobby. Re-united with Mika Zibanejad and Mike Hoffman last night, Ryan looked like a little bit more like himself. It'll be something to keep an eye on going forward.
Cameron's Usage: The Saga Continues
When things were looking dire a few weeks ago after that fateful Florida Panthers game in which Dave Cameron scratched Patrick Wiercioch in favour of Jared Cowen and threw his lines into a blender, much ink was spilled over the coach's line-up choices. It struck many as a panicked move by a rookie coach, and it says here that much of that criticism was deserved. To Cameron's credit, however, his player usage in most high leverage situations has been virtually unimpeachable from the moment he took over. Ottawa's had a good run of it of late in overtime, but some of that luck is of their own making. Cameron's restricted his defensive rotation to just his top four, and he's given free reign to his skilled forwards to make things happen while they're out there. This is how a smart team takes advantage of the extra ice that the four-on-four in overtime opens ups.
Perhaps even more impressively, Cameron's deployed stacked line-ups in situations where the goalie is pulled. Tuesday night against the Penguins, down a goal with the season on the line, Dave Cameron sent Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad and Clarke MacArthur over the boards to find the tying goal with almost two minutes left. Again, it's easy to justify the choice in retrospect but that's the kind of aggressive play you need to see from a coach in a situation where a goal was absolutely imperative. Kudos to Dave for showing that type of guts.
Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch
On the subject of guts, it took some guts for Cameron to stick with Patrick Wiercioch instead of Jared Cowen in spite of Bryan Murray's stated preference for the latter. His trust in the Weird One has paid off in spades. Paired with Cody Ceci, the two have driven play to the tune of a 54.3 CF% in close to 350 minutes. They're still prone to the occasional defensive zone breakdown but they've given Sens fans a reason to believe the situation on defense isn't quite as dire as we once thought.
The tricky part is that using Puckalytics's fantastic Super WoWY tool, you can see that without Wiercioch that Ceci's been on the wrong end of a lot of time spent in his end. This isn't necessarily an indictment of Ceci himself, he's had to spend the majority of his time away from Wiercioch playing with Jared Cowen, but rather of the depth of the defense. This team's really only a Wiercioch or Methot injury away from being in deep trouble on the blue line again.
I'll wrap up on a fun note. Hockey is nothing if not a game of rituals. For anyone who's played a game, to all the fans that watch the game, we all have our own fun little routines we get into. One of our inteprid readers had this to say about their routine:
So, what's your ritual or superstition?