It’s Friday, which means we’ve made it through another week. Congrats to all of us. As a small treat, here are five things buzzing around my mind these days.
1. The Reason for this Season
The Sens went 1-4 on the road trip, and pretty well tanked their miniscule playoff chances. It’s important to remember than came after winning five in a row right before it. If the Sens had played .600 hockey all season, they’d be solidly in the first wild card spot. The truth is that the Sens were always going to be in tough this season, and it didn’t help things that the Bruins decided it was time to play like they were nine years younger. The fact that we were excited for a road trip in mid-March is a sign that this team was probably about where we expected them: not quite a playoff team, but not a bottom-feeder either. There have been times they look like a minnow, but also times they beat the Rangers and the Kraken. It’s important to remember that Jakob Chychrun got thrown into this team at the most critical time of year, and while he looks very good, there are miscommunication issues that come with a new team. This team has spent most of the year without Josh Norris, with only three top-four defencemen, and down the stretch lost both their starting goalies. Injuries will hit every team, but I think it’s safe to say the Sens have had some bad luck this year. Also, nobody of consequence is aging out of their prime (Claude Giroux is ageless, after all), and so this team should be better next year. It was a year of huge strides, and don’t let some recent disappointing losses distract from the progress which should see this team be competitive next year.
2. Performance review of reviews
The GMs decided to postpone many of the suggestions they reviewed at this week’s meetings, including the potential for video review for things like high-sticks and pucks-over-glass. The news they were even thinking about it sent familiar disgust through hockey Twitter, over adding yet another way to slow the game down. I may be in the minority here, but I want the NHL to adopt these reviews. No, not everything can be reviewable, but that’s why you have a single coach’s challenge with the punishment of a minor penalty for being wrong. While that sucks for things like goaltender interference, where if the goal counts, you then have to kill a penalty right after, but imagine that risk if it’s not even a play that’s led to a goal and if you’re wrong, it leads to a full two-minute 5-on-3. No coach is doing that except in obvious instances where the refs got it wrong. Not to mention, there’s no subjectivity in these calls. It’s whose stick hit a guy in the face, or did the puck hit anything before it went over the glass. Those aren’t eight-minute reviews. The game is fast. Refs miss things, and we get the luxury of watching every replay in super slow-mo a thousand times. If we have rules, let’s make sure we get more of them right. We know how it feels to lose a playoff series on a bad call. Minimizing the chances of that happening again always seems like a good choice to me.
3. Playing with Power
The thought about expectations got me thinking about next year’s powerplay. With Norris back, I love the thought of having him and DeBrincat on opposite sides, so there’s a heavy shot threat both sides. Put Tkachuk in front of the net, and have Stützle in the middle. Then as the defenceman at the top, I don’t really care if it’s Chabot or Chychurn or Sanderson or even Brännström. The truth is, this team has enough firepower for the powerplay that there’s no reason to keep the units stagnant when they start struggling. Rotate out the defenceman. Bring supreme motivator Giroux up to that top unit. I think I’m already getting myself excited for next season, which... not sure if it’s a good idea to already be doing that.
4. Highway to the High-Danger Zone
So it may seem like the Sens are giving up more good chances lately, and that's because they are. The Sens are middle of the pack at 17th in the league (per Natural Stat Trick) at preventing High-Danger Chances against, allowing 12.7 per game (all situations). By definition, a high-danger chance is a shot from within four feet of the crease, or a rebound or rush shot from inside the faceoff dots. In the last eight games, they have allowed 13, 16, 25, 17, 15, 12, 7, and 19. The low one in there is the Columbus game. Before that, they allowed three (!!) to the Red Wings. In all situations! I'm not sure what's caused it, but giving up all these odd-man rushes with a pair of rookie goalies in net seems like a recipe for disaster. It's like the defence are so interested in rushing up the ice, they miss the players sneaking in behind them. I'm not a strategist, but this is a big area I would address if I were the defensive coach or something.
5. Playoff Runs
This year’s stretch run has kind of fizzled out, but it got me thinking: when were the most exciting playoff runs in franchise history? So, here are my Top-Five Sens playoff runs. These aren’t necessarily the ones with the best teams, it’s the March-to-mid-April stretches that were the most fun to witness.
2012-2013: The lockout-shortened season saw the Sens defy all odds to make the playoffs. They lost Jason Spezza five games into the season, and then Milan Michalek 15 games into the season. Jared Cowen needed hip surgery, Craig Anderson missed half the season, and Erik Karlsson got his Achilles sliced by Matt Cooke. And yet, this team refused to quite. Alfie’s last year as captain saw him drag this team to the playoffs, where they then took down the Habs in a very memorable first-round series.
4. 2005-06: The year after the full-season lockout, the Sens were flying. The CASH/Pizza Line was the best line in hockey. Dominik Hasek was turning back the clock. The Sens had a dominant defence corps. Hasek’s adductor injury at the Olympics hurt, but this team was still cruising to the playoffs. It was fun to watch them soar, and most fans had huge hopes going into the playoffs, making the run down the stretch a lot of fun. No comments on Jason Pominville or what came after.
3. 2002-03: The only time the Sens have won the Presidents’ Trophy, this season saw the Sens file for bankruptcy protection and yet overcome their .500 first few weeks of the season to dominate everyone down the stretch. It was great seeing just how good they could be, and was also fun seeing that they were probably going to take on Alexei Yashin in the first round of the playoffs.
2. 1996-97: The Sens were in their fifth season, and had finished last in the league in each of their first four seasons. However, their young stars in Yashin and Daniel Alfredsson were maturing, and they had a solid goaltending duo in Damian Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt. It was tough, but they managed to push themselves in, including the incredibly memorable Steve Doo-doo-doo-Duchesne goal. It was a huge boost for the franchise, who would then make the playoffs 11 seasons in a row. This one also saw the Sens push the Hasek-led Sabres to seven games in the first round, despite it being the (2) v. (7) matchup.
1. 2014-15: You could argue the Hamburglar run was one of the greatest playoff pushes in sports history. It was so incredible, watching the Sens claw back from a 2% playoff chance in February. This video does the whole thing way more justice than my words ever could.