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Five Thoughts for a Friday

Are the Sens in session yet?

Ottawa Senators v San Jose Sharks Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI

Let me preface this write-up by acknowledging that the Senators probably didn’t head into the season planning for a contingency wherein ten players went into COVID protocol at once, and that right now it feels rather unfair to do any sort of critical assessment as to why the Sens are the way they are. That aside, every team deals with injury and illness this team looks draft lottery-bound once again, and more and more people are asking the question: Are the Sens really in session? Probably not. So what’s going on?

I have a theory that there may be a lot of puck luck involved. Let’s dig in.

On Five-on-Five Offence

Let’s start of with what everyone has been waiting for: more bad news. The Senators have an atrocious record and they might even be overachieving a bit by some of their underlying metrics.

Let’s unpack that: At five-on-five, the Sens generate 2.12 expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) and that ranks 24th in the league. By comparison Ottawa scores 2.23 actual goals per 60 at five-on-five (ranked 19th in the NHL). Now that’s not a huge gap, but they’re 13th in the league by 5v5 shooting percentage. In what may come as a surprise to some, their finishing has helped them convert a few more goals than they might otherwise be expected to score.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Ottawa is doomed to a major regression. And if you want to look for positives, several prominent Senators have been especially snake-bitten at five-on-five and could break out any time now. Most notably, Tim Stützle can’t possibly sustain his one-ice shooting percentage of 3.9 at five-on-five (ditto for Chris Tierney at 4.5, and Nick Paul and Alex Formenton both at 5.4). On the back end, Nick Holden and Josh Brown have suffered on-ice shooting percentages of 3.1 and 4.7 respectively so they must both also feel like they can’t catch a break right about now. There are lots of ways the Sens could get a few more bounces on the offensive end.

On Five-on-Five Defence

If you think Ottawa’s defensive woes look almost too bad to be true, you might be on to something. While the offence has modestly overachieved, the defence may be underachieving at five-on-five. Ottawa concedes 2.46 xGA/60 (keep in mind they generate 2.12, so that’s a net loss) which ranks 23rd but they also surrender 3.12 actual goals (31st) with a five-on-five save percentage of 90.9 (29th). Now with goaltending we can attribute some of the results to luck but we also have to actually look in the proverbial stable. Anton Forsberg has struggled the most for Ottawa at five-on-five with a save percentage of 88.5 and -0.84 goals saved above average while Matt Murray and Filip Gustavsson have fared better with save percentages of 91.7 and 91.3 at five-on-five respectively (and kept their goals saved above average on the positive side of the margin).

Among Ottawa defenders who have suffered the worst fates in terms of on-ice save percentage at five-on-five, Lassi Thomson (78.3) and Victor Mete (86.1) find themselves under that 90.9 team average. While up front our friends Formenton (87.1) and Paul (87.5) once again appear in the bad luck category. Ottawa has looked predominantly like a one-forward-line and on-defensive-pairing team this season without any depth to speak of and a little luck could go a ways to making some more of the young Senators look like more than token depth. Sometimes you just need the guy behind you to stop a puck!

On the Powerplay

As hard as you may find this to believe when you’re yelling “Shoooot” at your screen, the powerplay has somehow become the Senators’ bread and butter (while the first unit is out there anyway). Their 6.55 xGF/60 ranks 17th in the NHL on the powerplay while their 7.42 actual goals and shooting percentage of 13.9 rank 13th and 14th respectively. And things could get better. Brady Tkachuk (9.5), Stützle (12.5), and Josh Norris (13) have on-ice shooting percentages below team average on the powerplay and those could always improve. Drake Batherson and Thomas Chabot have led the way on the powerplay in terms of on-ice expected goals (7.84 and 7.06 per 60 respectively) and actual goals (8.29 and 7.98 per 60 respectively) on the powerplay.

On the Penalty Kill

Here things again look pretty bleak but I feel like there has to be a reason for the deterioration of the Senator’s penalty kill. Their 8.36 xGA/60 ranks 30th and actual 10.12 GA/60 ranks 28th with a surprising save percentage of 85.6 ranking 24th league-wide shorthanded. Murray has struggled the most among Ottawa’s netminders on the penalty kill with a shocking -3.31 goals saved above average and a 81.3 save percentage (Forsberg 89.3 and Gustavsson 86.7). I find it interesting that with Ottawa’s goaltending, at five-on-five, all three netminders face between 2.09 and 2.73 xGA/60 (which is close enough to the team average of 2.46) but on the penalty kill, Forsberg faces 12.96 which more than doubles Gustavsson’s rate of 6.21 (Murray faces 7.87 xGA/60 on the penalty kill). I don’t know what to make of it. Likely a small sample size issue.

In terms of individual results for skaters, Ottawa’s three unluckiest penalty killers in Nikita Zaitsev, Formenton, and Paul have the lowest on-ice save percentages of 75.0, 77.2, and 78.1 respectively. And yet, these three have been Ottawa’s best on the penalty kill conceding 5.46, 6.14, and 5.70 xGA/60 respectively while shorthanded. That discrepancy for me holds some sort of insight into the woes of the Senators penalty kill. I feel like Mete probably also deserves some credit for his penalty kill work with the best actual goals against per 60 of 5.82 (almost half the team average) and the fourth-best xGA/60 at 8.75 shorthanded.

On the Best of the Rest

When looking at Ottawa’s ten best players in terms of expected goals-for percentage at five-on-five, you get the obvious big five of Batherson, Tkachuk, Chabot, Artem Zub, and Norris who lead in xGF/60 ranging from 2.32-2.70, and fittingly enough the remaining five names rank best among Senators in xGA/60. Stützle, for those of you who have slept on his performance this season, has emerged as Ottawa’s best five-on-five defensive player with just 1.82 xGA/60, and Parker Kelly follows up just behind him with 1.85. Also of note, Chris Tierney (2.07), Tyler Ennis (2.10), and Logan Shaw (2.12) have played exemplary defense at five-on-five. Again, none of the ten players mentioned in the paragraph rank top five in five-on-five xGF and xGA/60 so it’s a mutually exclusive set comprising the top-ten in xGF% at five-on-five in Ottawa.

And to check in on the bad luck club one last time, most of the defensive dynamos have suffered the worst fates in terms of expected and actual goals:

No Luck

Player xGF% GF%
Player xGF% GF%
Parker Kelly 51.7 42.0
Tyler Ennis 48.6 41.1
Tim Stützle 53.8 33.3
Chris Tierney 50.4 28.6
Alex Formenton 44.0 28.6

With extra special consideration to Jimmy’s unfathomable actual goals-for percentage at five-on-five of 33.3 (!) despite one of the best xGF% on the team, a lot of Senators have felt the wrath of the PDO despite their best efforts. No one would mistake the Senators as juggernauts but we really can’t discount the extent to which lucky bounces have eluded a lot of key players and the depth skaters too.

So what does it all mean? I have no clue. This was my way of telling you that nickels used to have bumblebees on them. The Sens are definitely not in session right now. COVID hit this team hard and it had already lost some key players to injury early on. The important numbers haven’t been good enough to let us belief that puck luck alone can turn the tide but more than a couple players certainly deserve better fates than they’ve experienced to date this season. The pieces are there at the top and Ottawa has some good depth options but without graduating some blue chip prospects to the NHL, it will only take the slightest misfortune to keep this season leading the Sens to the same fate we’ve seen for the past four years. At this particular moment, though, the Sens are in the worst of both worlds: not quite doing enough as a team, but also getting at least a little bit unlucky. With the depth stretched as thin as it is, it’s difficult to envision the overall play picking up but the luck sure could. Hey, I’d say we’re due for some good news.

All stats as always courtesy of Natural Stat Trick