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Deathcember Will Show who the Real 2016-17 Senators are

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In the month of “Deathcember,” Ottawa has an incredibly tough schedule. By the end of the month, we should know who this team really is.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Senators are off to a pretty good start in their first two months at a record of 15-9-2. As of December 6th, they sit in a playoff spot, and that’s a better place than I thought they would be in. Of course, last night did not go according to plan, but a that was an expected loss anyway. To date, Ottawa’s schedule has not been very tough, and December (or “Deathcember”) is going to be much more difficult moving forward.

The thing with the Senators is that I have no idea what sort of team this is. Are they still a bubble team? Can they challenge for the third or even the second seed in the division? It’s hard to tell at this point.

But by the end of the month, heading into 2017, we should get a much better sense of who this team really is.

Good teams have to be able to beat other good teams, and Ottawa is going to be put to the test. Obviously they have already played three games this month, but the first two against Philadelphia and Florida were considered the “easier” games in December.

Here is what the rest of the month looks like for the Senators:

Sens schedule

There are ten games remaining in the month, and at that point they will have played 36 games. Typically around the 30-game mark you can define how good or how bad a team is, so going until the end of 2016 should certainly be enough time to evaluate them. It’s not as if nothing can change after that point, but 36 games is a large sample size within a season.

Of those ten games, seven of them look to be very tough contests. San Jose (twice), Anaheim (twice), Los Angeles, Chicago and the New York Rangers will all be hard games, and winning three of those would be an accomplishment.

Even two games against New Jersey and Detroit will not be cake-walks, as the Devils haven’t been too bad at 11-7-6, and the Red Wings are at 12-11-3.

The only “easy” game should be against the New York Islanders, as they have been extremely underwhelming this season. They were still a playoff team last year though, and in fact, the only opponent in this stretch of games that didn’t play past 82 games are the Devils.

No matter how you look at it, Deathcember is going to be incredibly challenging for Ottawa. I haven’t even mentioned yet that three of these games come on their annual California road trip, which is notoriously tough for Eastern Conference teams. The good news is that at 15-9-2 Ottawa has built themselves a bit of a cushion.

Even if they go say 3-6-1 to end 2016, that would leave them with an 18-15-3 record, which should be good enough to keep them in a wild card position. Breaking even and getting 10 points or more (out of 20) would be phenomenal though.

If Ottawa somehow comes out of this stretch of games with a better record than they already have, then I’ll be quite confident in where this team is headed.

The thing is, I’m not quite sure if they are good or not just yet. Their corsi says one thing, and their xGF% says another. Coming into Monday, they sat 26th in CF%, but 13th in expected GF%, and 14th in scoring chance for %.

They are legitimately keeping shooters to the outside, and I do believe that Guy Boucher has something to do with that in terms of not allowing as many high-quality scoring chances. I just wonder if that can sustain itself while Ottawa is also consistently losing the overall possession battle.

And the truth is, I’m not sure. That’s why I think this next month is going to be very telling, because against some better competition, Boucher’s style of play will be put to the test.

It looks like by January 1st, 2017, the Senators should still be in a decent enough spot, unless they go winless for the rest of the month. If they can tread water and get a few wins here and there, then perhaps they are just a bubble team moving forward. But if they can play with the powerhouses and even get some wins (to go along with controlling the play), then maybe we underestimated this team coming into the year.

As the Penguins showed us last night, Deathcember is a scary month, but we should at least be able to tell who the real Ottawa Senators are at the end of it.