More than halfway into the season, the Ottawa Senators are in the thick of the play-off hunt. And now coming off two impressive wins over the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Sens head into an important match-up with their arch-nemesis the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. The attendance woes and general malaise of the fall seem like a distant memory. All this to say, it’s an exciting time to be a Sens fan again.
Here are some thoughts I’ve been having about the Sens:
Chris Wideman’s strong play
Since his promotion to full-time NHL player last season, Chris Wideman has quietly put together some fairly impressive play. His performance this year has been an improvement on last year’s solid foundation in virtually every way imaginable: he leads all Sens defensemen in CF% and is in fact the only one of the six regulars to boast a positive shot differential while on the ice. On top of that, he’s second in 5v5 scoring only to Erik Karlsson. His vision and creativity with the puck are obvious the moment you see him operate in the offensive end, but he’s an underrated skater who closes down on loose pucks very effectively.
The struggles of Cody Ceci have been chronicled at length, but it says here that Chris Wideman deserves a prolonged shot at the second pairing on his own merits.
Curtis Lazar Trade Rumours
As the trade deadline approaches, we’re seeing the first speculation of who might be moved and lo and behold Lazar’s name is starting to pop up. It’s kind of hard to believe that we’ve reached this point with Lazar, but a trade might be the only way for the Senators to salvage any value from the 2013 1st round pick. It hasn’t helped his cause that he’s being forced to carry around Chris Neil and Chris Kelly, but Lazar’s 0 points in 23 games sticks out like a sore thumb. Only a couple of years ago, Lazar’s name was a considered a non-starter for the Senators in any trade package; today if they were able to get a second round pick you’d have to consider it a win.
If I had to guess, I’d still wager the Sens are more likely to hold onto Lazar than to deal him, they’re precariously thin up front, but the fact that his name is even in the rumor mill at all is telling.
4th line Struggles
Speaking of Lazar, while the rest of the team seems to have found its game the fourth line has been simply horrendous. In the close to 70 minutes they’ve played together, Curtis Lazar, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly are getting a measly 36% of the shot attempts. Maybe even more damning, they have yet to score a single goal as a group. Last night in Columbus, Guy Boucher was reticent to play the trio after two particularly gruesome shifts in the first period.
The Sens are stuck in a bit of a tough spot here: Neil and Kelly would be the two logical players to take a seat but no one in Binghamton has particularly distinguished themselves this season, and the optics of making either of those two respected veterans a healthy scratch aren’t easy to get around. We’re going to get a breaking point eventually, however, because for a team fighting for its playoff life every little bit counts.
Erik Karlsson’s Passing Skills
Last night’s beauty of an assist on Kyle Turris’ breakaway goal got me thinking about the captain and his puck distribution abilities. Karlsson does so many things so well that we sometimes take it for granted. His skating may very well be his best attribute, but his passing is a close second in my books. Karlsson reads the play better than most and when the opportunities present themselves, he absolutely wires the puck to the spot. During the first period intermission, Karlsson remarked to Gord Miller that he wasn’t trying these types of bombs as often as he used to. But after watching this on loop all night, let’s hope he’ll maybe try it again soon:
The Return of the Battle of Ontario
For some Sens fans, a showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs is anxiety inducing. That’s understandable, historically these games haven’t turned out well for Ottawa. That said, I can’t help but be excited for this weekend’s tilt against the Buds. Part of hockey fandom is rivalries, and no other match-up (not even the Habs) has ever matched the fever pitch of the early 2000’s Sens-Leafs play-off series. We’re still a ways to go from that level, but every meaningful game between the two teams brings us closer to it. There may be some Pepto involved, but personally, I can’t wait.