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Notes From the Rink: Fourth Line Struggles, Wideman, Condon

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Senators head coach Guy Boucher scratches two thirds of his fourth line, Chris Wideman’s impressive season to date and another update on the team’s goaltending situation.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at New York Islanders Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Jason-Spezza-less Dallas Stars have rolled into the nation’s capital, hoping to break out of their three-game losing streak tonight against the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators have a slump of their own on the go. While they’ve only lost two straight, the team has failed to score a goal in 120 minutes and 25 seconds.

Though many things have drastically changed in Ottawa this season, the team’s infamous tendency to match the speed and talent of contenders and play down to the level of the league’s bottom dwellers has stayed the exact same. The Senators are currently six games above .500 when playing playoff teams and only three games above .500 when playing non-playoff teams.

Deathcember was a huge success, a difficult schedule in January produced a winning record, yet as of late, the Senators are facing struggling teams and lacking the necessary effort and attention to detail that’s provided to win against any squad in the NHL.

Three weeks ago, they were comfortable in the standings. Two weeks ago, they were said to be a guarantee for the postseason. Now, after the All-Star Break has come and gone, and the schedule has finally turned favourable, the Senators are beginning to lose the large gap they created between themselves and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers.

The margin for error just got a lot smaller.

Fourth Line Struggles

In his morning press conference, head coach Guy Boucher announced he’d be going with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards tonight. Chris Neil and Curtis Lazar will watch from the press box and Freddy Claesson will play.

Even with the addition of Tommy Wingels, the fourth line has been abysmal. They’ve failed to create anything offensively and have proven to be a mess in the defensive zone. Simply providing a physical presence will only get you so far.

This year, the Senators have found success when the fourth line’s even strength minutes are spread amongst the top nine.

“You can have Brassard on the fourth,” said Boucher, explaining his choice of lineup. “And you can have Turris on the fourth, and you can have Stone on the fourth, which gives us another look.”

Boucher has more or less been forced into this situation. On one hand, yes, Claesson has shown he is a capable NHLer that can help create a bit of offense (four assists in his last three games), but what has mostly fabricated this lack of trust with the fourth line has been the play of Neil, Lazar and Chris Kelly.

While dressing 7 defensemen and 11 forwards is a short term answer, general manager Pierre Dorion should be focused on the playoffs and long term plan with the bottom six.

Next season, prospects like Colin White (although he could possibly be brought in for the postseason), Francis Perron, Filip Chlapik and Logan Brown could internally improve the last threesome. But Dorion should make an effort to acquire a solid depth forward right now; one that adds a lot more than Wingels can for the final stretch.

It would be best if Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard didn’t have to rotate through the fourth line night in and night out.

Wideman Having One Hell of a Year

One player that has caught the eye of the fancy stat world has been Senators defenseman Chris Wideman. Amongst the team’s D corps, 27-year-old boasts the best five-on-five CF rating (53.5%), top individual CF per 60 (14.9) and second most points per 60 (0.94).

“I truly don’t understand it,” Wideman admitted when asked about his underlying numbers.

Though he might not have a grasp on the wide world of analytics, Wideman doesn’t need to be an advanced stats guru to know he’s in the midst of maybe his best professional season yet.

During his second full season in the NHL, he’s playing the most complete hockey of his career.

“The more games you play, the more comfortable you’re going to be,” Wideman explained after today’s morning skate. “I’ve said this the past couple weeks: I’ve feel better in February this year than I felt in February last year. And now I’m going to feel better in March this year than March last year, so as you get more games under your belt, you feel more comfortable, try to expand your game, not do anything crazy, but just and take another step every night.”

The former winner of the Eddie Shore Award (AHL’s Best Defenseman) has garnered a great deal of trust within the coaching staff. Though his even strength minutes haven’t really increased, he’s been the quarterback on the Senators’ second power play unit for nearly the entire season.

“Anytime you’re on the power play, it’s an honour,” said Wideman. “But you’ve got to perform. The puck’s going to be on your stick and you’ve got to make plays, you’ve got to gets pucks on net. It’s something I’m comfortable doing. I’ve done it throughout my career and (I’m) just trying to take another step there this year in the NHL.”

After widely being known for offense and offense only, Wideman is quickly developing into a multi-dimensional player in his sophomore year. Nowadays, more and more critics are seeing him to be a two-way defenseman with top-four potential; much improved from the fringe player he used to be.

Condon’s Days as Starter are Numbered

Is Mike Condon at all concerned about his place on the team once Craig Anderson is ready to take back the No. 1 job?

“Playing the Dallas Stars, that’s the mindset. Just worrying about Dallas and hoping for a good performance tonight.”

Alright, apparently not.

After appearing in 27 straight games, Condon finally got his first night off on Tuesday when the Senators played generous host to the St. Louis Blues. The 26-year-old is known for constantly being in survival mode, desperately trying to earn as many starts as he can to stay afloat in the NHL, but when asked about being on the bench last game, he took a positive outlook.

“Sometimes when you’re playing so much you have to conserve your energy better in practice,” said Condon ahead of his start against the Stars. “And then that’s where your details can kind of get away from (you). When you have three or four days on the ice to get three or four hard skates, really iron out some details, it’s always beneficial.”

The Massachusetts native is coming down to his last one or two games as the team’s No. 1. While Condon it’s assumed Condon is still above Andrew Hammond on the goaltending depth chart, Craig Anderson has had a few solid practices under his belt and is nearing a return.

“Andy is looking better and better every day,” said Boucher, beaming. “He looked outstanding to me this morning, but we’re not there yet.”

Saturday is definitely a possibility, albeit a small one, but it’s likely that Anderson will be ready to go early next week. Maybe Tuesday night when the Buffalo Sabres are in town.

“Every day is a possibility,” explained Boucher. “I’ll be honest with you, right now I’m waiting for the green light and the green light will come from him and the goalie coach.”