First of all, I feel the need to preface this with a few things: this is not an article that will say that the Ottawa Senators will have a lousy season and will not make the playoffs. Nor is it meant to not get you excited about the season that starts in two days.
Rather, it is about tempering people’s expectations. What does that entail then? It means that as fans of any sport team (especially the Senators in this case), we should hope for the best, but expect the worst. That way, a season that takes a turn for the worst isn’t as devastating as it could be, and any sort of success like last season is absolute gravy.
I am not saying this in order to get people pessimistic about the season; instead, I am saying this as a piece of advice. The Senators came incredibly close to winning a Stanley Cup last season, and the only way some fans will be happy is if they get to that same level or do even better—-which is incredibly difficult to do.
Now, do I think the Senators should be taking another step forward this season based on where the sit as a franchise? Absolutely, but I’m also very hesitant to believe that they can repeat their success. There are a few reasons for that, which is why my optimism coming into the season is cautious.
Let’s take a look at why.
Most people know that the Senators were not a good possession team last year, which put a target on their back as a team that didn’t “deserve” to be winning as many games as they did. They finished 22nd in shot attempts at 48.54%, and their goal differential was -4 for the year. When a team has poor possession numbers and/or a bad goal differential, they will compensate by having either a.) an amazing powerplay or penalty kill, b.) high SH% or SV%, c). luck in one-goal games, or d.) they solved something we don’t know about.
“The System” has been widely regarded amongst Senators fans as something to trust, and I certainly think Guy Boucher knows what he’s doing. I do think we can factor some of that into our evaluation of the team. What’s strange about the 16-17 season for Ottawa is that a.) and b). did not apply whatsoever.
Their PP ranked 23rd and their PK was 22nd. Furthermore, their SH% was 23rd and SV% 8th. So clearly, we can point to c.) as one of the main reasons for Ottawa’s success. You can call it luck, the will to win, heart, whatever...Ottawa’s record in one-goal games was 26-11-10. Now, that record includes two-goal margins where an empty-net goal was scored, because it is essentially the same thing.
While that technically includes 26 wins and 21 losses which makes it seem not too outlandish, that record extrapolated over the course of 82 games is actually 108 points. So clearly the Senators were incredibly good at winning close games.
You can interpret that as The System doing its work and the team having heart, or you can also interpret it as a sign that perhaps some of those bounces won’t go the Senators way this season. As fun as it is to praise The System, I’d much rather be blowing teams out of the water instead of eking out 3-2 or 2-1 wins.
I also think it’s important to note that despite finishing 2nd in the Atlantic division, they were only four points up on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who missed the playoffs entirely.
To me, it seems like many fans are acting superior because the Senators went to the Conference Finals, but if just a couple games did not go their way, they may have not made the playoffs at all.
And you can say that about many teams in the league, but it is a tad worrisome for this team especially due to the underlying numbers that I have mentioned.
The Senators certainly played better in the playoffs, and people will point to that as the team improving and understanding The System better. Despite this anecdotal evidence (which I mostly agree with), Ottawa still had a 49.17 CF% and a -3 goal differential. And continuing with their regular season trend, their record in one-goal games was 10-5, with an astonishing six overtime wins and just two losses.
Suffice it to say, Ottawa had a lot of good fortune in the 2016-17 season. That does not mean the reverse will happen and everything will go wrong, but I don’t expect a similar type of season to play out.
If there’s one silver lining, it is that at least others cannot point to Ottawa’s PP%, PK%, SH% or SV% and say that they are due to regress. For all we know, one of those categories could improve, which could mean fewer one-goal games overall.
Furthermore, although I do think Ottawa will win fewer close games, there’s a chance that they can be just as good as last year. Craig Anderson is capable of carrying the team for stretches, and great goaltending can make most teams look better than they are. Plus, although Thomas Chabot will begin the year in Belleville and Colin White is injured, I believe the two of them (plus potentially Logan Brown) could improve this team enough that they essentially negate the regression in “luck” from one-goal games.
But if that does not happen and they struggle more than we had hoped, don’t be surprised.
Like I said in the beginning, this isn’t meant to be a post about why the Senators will 100% be worse, but I think it’s important to at least be aware of what this team is. I truly hope that 2016-17 was not a mirage, and that Ottawa can finally get on a solid playoff streak. However, I recognize that the playoffs are not even a guarantee, and nothing should be taken for granted.