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Five Thoughts for Friday

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NHL: Ottawa Senators at Vancouver Canucks
“That puck is coming at me really fast!”
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The season is a week old, which means we can dive right into the most important piece of analysis for the Ottawa Senators: attendance.

I’m kidding. There’s no way I’m writing another handwringing piece about attendance. The Sens could play in front of an empty arena and I still wouldn’t write about attendance. It will be covered in excruciating detail elsewhere, I’m sure. Enough.

For our actual five thoughts today we have:

The Feeble Power Play

It’s not news to any Sens fan that one of the most pressing issues facing the team is the futility of the power play. Not only has Ottawa yet to score this year with the man advantage, but it’s the way that they’re failing to click that’s so discouraging. Ottawa ranks second to last in the NHL in xGF/60 with the man advantage, which is a rough estimate of how many (few) chances they’re generating. The anemic performance is a carry-over from last year, and it’s the one area where a return by Erik Karlsson might not be of assistance. It’s difficult to suss out fault on special teams: is it the scheme or is it the players executing the plan, or maybe it’s some combination of the two? I’m typically averse to drawing conclusions from such tiny sample sizes, but it already feels like this should be scrapped.

The Rise of Fredrik Claesson

When it became clear that Erik Karlsson would not be ready to start the season, and may yet be some time away from returning, the most pressing question facing the Sens was who would step up on the blueline. The common consensus was that Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf would see the most ice time in the captain’s absence, but after playing a team high 26:51 on Tuesday against Vancouver, Claesson is now third among all skaters. Guy Boucher is notoriously stingy with handing out ice time to youngsters, but in less than a season Claesson has gone from regular healthy scratch to one of the team’s top options on the back end. Without being spectacular at any one thing, Claesson does many things well: he has a hard shot that he gets off quickly, he is patient with the puck and able to make crisp breakout passes, and he defends attacking forwards quite capably by virtue of his extremely active stick. Of course everything will change when Karlsson makes his eventual return, but Claesson may well have secured his place in the top four by that time.

Shootouts

I’m sure that some of you, like me, were pulling their hair out when Boucher sent Tom Pyatt then Alexandre Burrows over the boards for the shoot-out against Vancouver before Mark Stone or Mike Hoffman or Derick Brassard or any other number of options. It turns out this is something Boucher and his staff have thought about at length:

I tend to agree with Boucher generally that some players are good at shootouts and that some are not; it’s possible to have refined a very specific skill to the point of expertise. Frans Nielsen, for example, is a player whose staggering shootout success outstrips his overall value as a player.

On the other hand, Mike Hoffman is one of the best scorers in the NHL and he’s only taken nine attempts in the shootout (he’s 1 for 9). If Hoffman scored on his next two chances, he’d be nearing Bobby Ryan’s noted level of proficiency. It’s not like the Sens have three shootout virtuosos ahead of Hoffman. It’s worth giving him a few more kicks at the can.

Stone + Brassard Chemistry

One of the most fun parts of the first three games of the season has been the continued dominance of the Stone-Brassard pairing. Last year, any trio that featured the two together was a force to be reckoned with and their early season performance with Bobby Ryan has been no different. Small sample size alert, of course, but the all three players are above 70% xGF on the year and none have been on the ice for a single 5v5 goal against. Stone is an incredible player that will work well with virtually anybody, but his partnership with Brassard is particularly effective because their strengths compliment each other: both are very willing passers that prioritize possession and rarely settle for just chipping it on or putting the puck on net. That style of play can come back to haunt you on occassion, witness the turnovers by Stone and Brassard in overtime on Tuesday that led to Vancouver chances, but on the whole it works out greatly to Ottawa’s advantage to have the two paired together.

Outlook

We’ll wrap up with a question for the comments section: It’s, of course, still early but has your outlook on the season changed at all after the first three games? Is there anything you’ve seen that’s made you reconsider some of your beliefs heading into the year?