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Weekly Question: What Can We Realistically Expect Down the Stretch?

After multiple COVID outbreaks and a growing list of injuries, how should we temper our expectations?

NHL: JAN 27 Hurricanes at Senators Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While the Ottawa Senators never had Stanley Cup aspirations this season, and the playoffs seem as unlikely now as ever, I probably had an unnecessarily cynical attitude to Pierre Dorion’s “rebuild is over rhetoric” because for all intents and purposes I’ve had a lot of fun watching this team through 37 games. They’ve had some absolute stinkers along the way, but this team knows how to entertain. And thus, I don’t need to ask if you’ll watch this team down the stretch. Because we love this team. And I don’t need to ask why. Because this team still keeps it interesting to say the least. But rather, I ask you, what can we realistically expect while watching the Ottawa Senators down the stretch?

Of course, even the phrase “down the stretch” takes on a new meaning because on this last weekend of January, the Senators have played less than half of their scheduled 82 games, and including today that means 45 games in the next 90 days. And given such a daunting remaining schedule, an unbelievable run of injuries, and multiple COVID outbreaks, the Senators have played some pretty decent hockey (especially of late). Looking specifically at January, Ottawa has some respectable middle-of-the-pack numbers (stats courtesy of natural stat trick):

Stats

Sens in January 5V5 SVA (Rank) Powerplay (Rank) Penalty Kill (Rank)
Sens in January 5V5 SVA (Rank) Powerplay (Rank) Penalty Kill (Rank)
Corsi 51.6% (12th) 90.5/60 (21st) 111.8/60 (27th)
xGoals 49.6% (19th) 7.5/60 (15th) 9.7/60 (30th)
Luck 99.7 PDO (15th) 11.1 Sh% (23rd) 94.6 Sv% (1st)

Just to unpack some details there, at five-on-five (score and venue adjusted) Ottawa has rocketed up the rankings in terms of Corsi, stayed the course in expected goals, and found a nice PDO groove (combined shooting and save percentages). The powerplay has regressed a bit but could get back to league average with some more shooting luck. And while the penalty killers have struggled to limit chances, Ottawa’s netminders have stood on their heads this month (definitely, totally sustainable). All told, Ottawa sits at fifteenth leaguewide in points percentage this past month (55.6%). So to reiterate, this team still looks like a long shot to make the post season, but I don’t think any of us will complain if they continue winning half of their games if for no other objective than self-respect.

Among the story lines I find most fascinating given all of Ottawa’s misfortune, the trade deadline remains a total mystery to me. While some folks still had designs of adding a top-six forward at the deadline (prior to Drake Batherson’s and Josh Norris’ injuries), I had written off the Sens as sellers. But given the grueling schedule ahead, I can’t fathom Ottawa trading away a goaltender like Anton Forsberg. I would have assumed Nick Holden went to a playoff team prior to his extension-signing earlier this week. Even trading a forward like Chris Tierney seems impossible at this point with so many centres on the injured reserve. More than anything, I’ll have my eyes on how the team handles Nick Paul’s impending free agency.

As always, the likes of Tim Stützle, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot make Senators games worth the price of admission on their own and we still get the added privilege of watching the real-time development of Alex Formenton, Erik Brännström, and Filip Gustavsson (not to mention the many prospects making their debuts this season). Can Ottawa win 35 of their remaining 45 games to sneak into the playoffs? Theoretically yes but probably not. But if they make even 20 of those games entertaining then we’ve had a successful season in Ottawa. I had low expectations of this team before all of the injuries and COVID outbreaks and scheduling nightmares. The fact that this team has faced so much adversity and somehow still surpassed expectations thus far should give you a pretty good idea of why this team is still worth watching despite all the setbacks.

With all that considered, what do you expect to see from the Ottawa Senators over the next three months of regular season hockey?