It’s hard to imagine, but this season wasn’t always a lost cause. Back around November 12th, the Sens were sitting at 8-3-5. They’d just traded for Matt Duchene, and even though he’d failed to put up a point, the Sens had won a pair of 4-3 decisions over the Avalanche while playing in Sweden. Erik Karlsson was starting to get accustomed to playing NHL hockey again. Things were looking up.
The first game after returning from Europe, the Sens lost 3-1 to the Penguins. It was disappointing, but the team had played just two games in a 12-day span. It was fair to expect some rust, maybe some residual jet lag. But then the team lost an embarrassing overtime game against the Coyotes. The next day, they were shut out by the Rangers. In all, they’d lose seven games before finally winning again. Only one of those games even went to overtime. The 6-5 win against the Islanders wasn’t pretty, but the offence came alive, led by Thomas Chabot’s three-point night (including his first NHL goal). Things were looking up. The Sens had finally found their feet.
The next game was against the Jets, a 5-0 loss in which the Sens didn’t show any threat of winning at all. They then lost 3-0 to the Ducks. After taking the Kings to overtime on a late tying goal (only to lose just seconds into overtime), they then lost 5-0 to the Sharks. The second losing streak felt even worse, because the Sens were failing to score at all.
In all, the Sens lost 12 out of 13 games between November 16th and December 12th. The stretch included a pair 3-2 losses to the basement-dwelling Coyotes and Sabres. The Sens were shut out four times in that span, including two 5-0 losses. For comparison, the Sens were shut out four times in all of 2016-17, and only once by more than five goals. They were shut out three times in 2015-16, and not at all in 2014-15. It was probably the most miserable stretch of hockey the Sens have played in a long time.
Some people blame the Europe trip as the reason for the losses. However, the Avalanche returned and won three of their next four games, including a shutout of the high-flying Dallas Stars. I think it was just one of those things.
Some people also look at the losing streak as the starting point of the unravelling of the season. The thing is, the Flyers did a very similar thing:
The Flyers had a 10-game losing streak that started on Nov 11, are now in a third in Metro, 5 points up on falling out of the playoffs.— Ross (@Sheer_Rossyness) February 12, 2018
Sens had a 7-game losing streak that started on Nov 16. They're now third-last in the league.
The Flyers would of course go on to make the playoffs, and the Sens would finish second-last. There was an opportunity to turn around the season, and the Sens failed time and time again. The goalies couldn’t make saves, and the skaters couldn’t score. There were three more losing streaks of at least five games on the year.
I think what that awful stretch showed us was that the Sens weren’t nearly as good as we’d hoped. Erik Karlsson wasn’t 100%. The goalies weren’t going to hold the Sens in games like they’d done most of last year. Guys like Zack Smith were what we’d always expected — decent NHLers, but not surprise top-sixers. Guy Boucher didn’t have answers when Karlsson and Craig Anderson weren’t bailing out all the offensive pressure the team was prepared to give up. #TheSystem may have been a mirage.
We’re now starting what Melnyk and Dorion have called a three-to-five-year plan to be competitive. We have yet to see all the casualties, but it’s fair to say there will be more trades and possibly a coach firing. It’s not fair to say that the November-December losing streak was the cause of that, but it is fair to say that the failure to recover from that losing streak led to all the decisions we’re seeing now. For that reason, those 13 games are one of the defining moments of the Sens’ season.