While the NHL is deep into preseason hockey, it only seems reasonable that assumptions are made based on rosters with 30 players, experimental line combos and mandatory goalie changes halfway through the second period.
Let's get to it.
The Third Pairing of Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki
Last night, the Montréal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators played in the first game of a home-and-home series with what looked to be lineups filled with most of each team's established regulars. It was the closest both squads have come to playing their complete big league roster since training camp opened.
Along with the Senators' soon-to-be consistent combos was that of the anticipated third pairing. As a tandom, this was Jared Cowen and Mark Borowiecki's first time facing solid competition.
And it wasn't pretty.
When it was all said and done, Cowen and Borowiecki were side by side at the very bottom of the stat sheet, posting ugly possession numbers. At even strength, they both had Corsi ratings below 21 percent, Fenwick ratings below 17 percent and shot for ratings below 12 percent.
On a night where the Senators were badly outshot 42-21, the biggest contributing factors may have been their struggling bottom pair.
While Borowiecki took his obligatory minor penalty for the night - the Canadiens scored as he was exiting the box - Cowen looked anything but confident with the puck and was getting beaten to the outside numerous times.
With management forcing Cowen into Dave Cameron's lineup no matter the foreseeable consequences, and Borowiecki being a hometown guy who brings the grit factor, Ottawa may be stuck with them as regulars for at least the first third of the season.
If only there was a simple solution.
Does anyone know who was voted the AHL's best defenseman last year?
Bobby Ryan may finish with a higher point total by the end of the season, but Hoffman will win the goal scoring race between them. While Ryan has been morphing into more of a playmaker, Hoffman continues to show he's a pure goal scorer.
In the few games he's been showcased this year, I think, if it's even possible, the 25-year-old may have gotten quicker. Against the Canadiens, it looked as if he'd been shot out of a cannon several times.
Line Combos Early On
After we painfully watched Paul MacLean's proverbial blender spit out nightmarish line combinations and defense pairings, all Sens fans yearned for was a change on the bench and to never see Colin Greening on the first line again.
Well, there came change with Cameron's promotion, and I'm almost certain Greening hasn't been seen beside Kyle Turris since, so job well done.
But as effectively as Cameron coached the Senators in their late season push for the playoffs, he had his downfalls.
There was the ridiculous demotion of Hoffman to the fourth line, followed by numerous games where Zack Smith was featured alongside Ryan and Zibanejad. Aided by certain under performing players being forced out of the lineup on a nightly basis, Cameron's true colours were never shown.
We're still waiting for them to be revealed, but the regular season is fast approaching and there could be some foreshadowing in his decisions with this nearly ready roster.
Suspected Sens lines vs MtL Hoffman-zibanejad-ryan Macarthur-lazar-Stone Chiasson-smith-neil Greening-pageau-puempel 7:30 start on TSN1200— gord wilson (@gordwilson) October 1, 2015
I was really hoping that would've gone better.
It's obviously still preseason. I understand. But now, with only one game left before the team heads to Buffalo for the first game that actually matters, isn't it time to put at least your top three lines together and get them into some sort of a groove early on?
Experimenting with Curtis Lazar between Clarke MacArthur and Mark Stone is too awkward so close to the season opener. And playing Pageau with two players unlikely to even make the 23-man roster just seems wrong.
As for the starters?
#Sens starting lineup tonight versus the Habs: Chiasson - Smith - Neil Cowen - Borowiecki Anderson— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) October 1, 2015
Maybe I'm reading to much into this. I really hope so.
The former Calder Trophy nominee has looked exceptional.
With five points in three games, Stone seems to be in midseason form right before the Senators are ready to burst out of the gates.
And it's not just his offensive prowess that is heating up.
That Stone takeaway was beautiful. Midseason form.— The 6th Sens (@6thSens) October 1, 2015
Stone has four takeaways and one giveaway during the preseason. With consistent power play time on the first unit and full-time top six linemates, the 2015-16 season is ramping up to be a big one for him.
There will be no sophomore slump.
Win Streak Right Away is Vital
Ottawa's first three games go as follows:
@ Buffalo Thursday, Oct. 8, 7:00 p.m.
@ Toronto Saturday, Oct. 10, 7:00 p.m.
vs. Montreal Sunday, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.
The schedule only seems to get harder - especially in November and December - so getting three wins right off the bat would be incredibly beneficial. The Leafs and Sabres pose no serious threat and the Habs are always a team that Ottawa has played well against.
The opportunity is there.
Maybe get on a roll early on and who knows what could happen.