The regular season for the Ottawa Senators is just one week away! We’ve been getting you ready for the beginning of the season, and today I’ll be analyzing the Senators goaltending and coaching staff. Let’s start with the goalies first:
Forsberg will begin the year as the starter, especially after it was announced that Talbot will miss 5-7 weeks with a rib injury. Unless he misses more time, Talbot will be the “1B” goalie behind Forsberg, although if he outplays Forsberg, I’m sure those roles will swap. In the meantime, the Senators claimed 31-year-old Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken. So Hellberg will backup Forsberg at least for the first 4-6 weeks of the season.
Beyond those three, Mads Søgaard will be the first AHL call-up if necessary, and Kevin Mandolese will be their fifth in line. If either of them are playing more than a couple of games, something will have gone wrong.
As long as Talbot will be able to return healthy, Ottawa has two capable NHL goaltenders, while a lot of teams out there have a very shaky backup. They don’t need both Forsberg and Talbot to be hot, but as long as one of them is playing competently, that could be good enough. Talbot has a career .915 SV% (.911% last year) and ranks tied for 18th amongst 78 goalies with 100+ GP since he entered the league in 2013-14. That’s tied with Pekka Rinne, John Gibson, Henrik Lundqvist, and Tristan Jarry, which is solid company. He won’t be a star, but Talbot is much more reliable than past backups such as Matt Murray, Marcus Hogberg, and Anders Nilsson.
Forsberg doesn’t have the same kind of track record as his career .909 SV% in 102 games isn’t quite as impressive, but he ranked 12th in the NHL in goals saved above expected this past season with +11.49. It was only 46 games, but Forsberg was a legitimate starting goaltender last year who might be a bit of a late bloomer. After all, he has a career .920 SV% in the AHL in 186 GP and this was the first time he was given a real chance to be the starter. While the ceiling of this Forsberg/Talbot tandem might not be the highest, Ottawa hasn’t had two competent goalies like this in years.
As mentioned earlier, Talbot will begin the season on the injured reserve. Hellberg comes from Seattle and despite his age, he’s only played 5 career NHL games. He dominated the KHL for five seasons and had a .932 SV% for three years with SKA St. Petersburg, and that leaves some room for optimism. He also had a .914 SV% in 187 career AHL games, which is fine but doesn’t stand out. He could certainly be a positive surprise, but he’s a big wildcard right now. Hopefully he doesn’t need to play more than a handful of games while Forsberg makes most of the starts and Talbot comes back in November though.
Besides Hellberg, it’s not as if Forsberg and Talbot are sure things. I loved what I saw from Forsberg last season, although we’ve seen hot stretches from other “underrated” Ottawa goalies in the past such as Mike Condon, Anders Nilsson, and Andrew Hammond. Talbot has a much longer resumé, but he’s also 35 and who knows when he will break down. If there is one thing that could sink the Senators season, it’s goaltending. All it takes is one injury and some underperformance. Ottawa just has to hope for some repeat performances from last year.
There are no excuses this season. If DJ Smith, Jack Capuano, Davis Payne, and Bob Jones can’t get the most out of this group and at least come close to making the playoffs, it’ll be a massive failure. To be honest, I’d set the bar at making the playoffs because I think this team has enough talent, and good coaches are able to elevate their team to the next level. However, there could be a scenario where they barely miss the playoffs, take a massive step forward, but have some bad luck.
In the first three seasons for Smith, there were plenty of valid excuses as to why he wasn’t doing as well as he could. The team was going through a rebuild, and the organization was just trying to develop prospects and didn’t really care about winning games until last season. The rosters he was given weren’t going to be good enough for any coach, so I can sympathize with Smith’s difficult task. But now? Ottawa has integrated a ton of talent into the lineup and they’ve added top players like Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. If the Senators don’t get off to at least a respectable start, fans will be calling for the coaching staff to be fired.
That doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to be gone this season though. Smith seems to be well-liked in the dressing room, and I’m curious to see what he can do with an improved roster. It’s only fair that he gets this shot because he can really put a stamp on this team. I think a lot of people have generally liked him so far, which is easy to do because he seems to be a likeable person off the ice.
In terms of the on-ice production that is typically attributed to coaches, the Senators haven’t been the best since Smith came to Ottawa. Here are their different rankings:
- PP%: 27th
- PK%: 23rd
- CF%: 25th
- xGF%: 22nd
If we just look at last season, here is where they sit:
- PP%: 20th
- PK%: 13th
- CF%: 21st
- xGF%: 25th
So overall the numbers have not been pretty, although there was at least some progression last season except for the expected goal numbers. The penalty kill being above average last season was a huge development because that has been a downfall of the team for years, so if they are able to keep that up, that can give them a fighting chance. The powerplay is ranked surprisingly low, and based on the number of lethal options, I think that should easily be above average this season.
NHL coaches can only control so much sometimes, but they can also turn average teams into good ones and good ones into great ones. I really hope Smith and his staff can take that first step into making the Senators a good team.