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Silver Nuggets: Ottawa Senators Second Pairing

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Phaneuf-Ceci has not inspired confidence so far

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Detroit Red Wings
Red Rover, Red Rover, we call Datsyuk over!
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

To start the season, most fans of the Ottawa Senators were concerned about Mark Borowiecki on defence. He hadn’t done much since coming up to the NHL to inspire confidence in his ability to hold down the third pairing. But so far this season, he’s been alright. It’s been helped a little bit by Guy Boucher giving his penalty kill time to Erik Karlsson, and probably also by having an actual defensive structure.

The big problem defensively this season so far has been the pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci. Just looking at some raw 5v5 numbers (all via Natural Stat Trick): Ceci has been on for 62 shot attempts for and 104 against, Phaneuf for 63 and 90 respectively; Ceci has 34 shots on goal for and 58 against, Phaneuf has 36 and 52; Ceci is at 23 for and 46 scoring chances against, while Phaneuf is at 22 and 45. So for every scoring chance those two get, they give the opposition two. That’s hardly a recipe for success.

As a pairing, they’ve been pretty bad, posting a 38% Corsi at 5v5 (Corsi is all shot attempts - on goal, blocked, and missed). Without Phaneuf, Ceci drops to 37%, while without Ceci, Phaneuf rises to 53%. A lot of that has to do with linemates - Ceci typically gets paired with Borowiecki as a second option, while Phaneuf gets equal amounts of Chris Wideman and Erik Karlsson. A lot of that also has to do with sample size - the two have an hour of ice time together, and just 20 minutes apart.

What has been the reason for their struggles? For Ceci’s part, he looks always just a little bit behind to me. It could partly be adjusting to a new system, it could still be learning (he’s only 22). It could be that he requires some intense one-on-one time with the coaching staff to learn more about positioning. It could also be that he needs a supportive partner, which he isn’t really getting in Phaneuf.

For Phaneuf’s part, he’s looked older and slower than I remember him. He also seems to take an inordinate amount of dumb penalties. It’s kind of like Chris Neil of four seasons ago, except Neil was paid to get under other players’ skins, while Phaneuf is paid to play defence. It is good that, for example, Phaneuf-Wideman has been good at pushing the play the other way, but it says to me that Phaneuf also needs a supportive partner at this point in his career.

The Sens juggled forward lines at practice today, but I think the defence is where a shakeup is really needed. I’d like to see Methot-Ceci as a regular pairing, especially now that Methot looks like he’s playing his normal, reliable standard. That would leave Phaneuf-Karlsson, which has looked good in the past in limited ice time. I’d say it’s at least worth a shot. Hopefully some of Methot’s good habits rub off on Ceci, and besides, it can’t be any worse than what we’re seeing now.

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