Will the Sens' five-on-five luck run out?
I know it seems difficult to wrap one’s head around the idea that this team has gotten lucky considering how many games they've lost but--yes Ottawa has had a lot of luck so far, at least when it comes to shooting at five-on-five. The Sens expected goals at five-on-five (2.46/60) rank 24th in the league which seems not good. To date they've shot 10.23% which ranks fourth in the league so you can see the discrepancy. On the one hand, I expect Ottawa to generate more chances going forward based on personnel and new systems, but it also seems unlikely that they continue to shoot more efficiently than say Colorado or Dallas.
To illustrate this point, Detroit flew out of the gates this season despite expected rates comparable to Ottawa's. They've also shot an even more absurd 10.63% at five-on-five. The house of cards has inevitably come crashing down and they've lost nine of their last eleven games with goaltending results also similar to Ottawa's.
Can Jacques Martin get this team playing defence?
I think the fanbase has asked this question more than any other and it still resonates. Masters of symmetry, the Sens five-on-five defence also ranks 24th in the league in terms of expected goals against (2.74/60) and the goaltending bears that out with a 24th ranked five-on-five save percentage of 90.56 this season. Call it chicken-and-egg because the netminders will only play as well as the defence in front of them while the team can only get as far as the goaltenders carry them. Either way it needs to improve.
A deeper dig reveals that the Sens haven't just suffered some bad bounces and misfortunes from injuries. They have played sloppy and lost--period. Martin will need to make more shrewd roster decisions than his predecessor and get them to clean it up in front of Ottawa's crease to uphold his old legacy.
Will the Sens shoot better than 10% on the powerplay?
It feels like over the past few weeks when things felt most hopeless in Ottawa, special teams have factored significantly in losses. The powerplay has felt underwhelming for a while now, especially considering the personnel that Ottawa has up top, so what gives? I find it confounding in that Ottawa generates 8.56 expected goals per 60 on the powerplay (that ranks about middle of the pack in the league (ahead of teams like Detroit and Buffalo that Ottawa need to leapfrog)) but the Sens have also only shot 10.77% to date and that ranks in the bottom third in league. The median sits about four points higher than Ottawa's current rate so you gotta wonder if this will balance out or just plague the Sens to the bitter end.
Will Forsberg and Korpisalo remember how to kill penalties?
While I am reluctant to say failure to score on the powerplay has cost the Sens many games so far, shorthanded goals have absolutely cost this team on several occasions. And I hate to assign blame to Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo directly because the whole team has collectively dug their grave, but the penalty kill shouldn't have performed so badly to date. Ottawa's 8.36 expected goals against per 60 shorthanded rank just slightly worse than league median while their team save percentage shorthanded of 80.54 ranks dead last in the NHL--a full seven points below the middle of the pack.
In the three seasons prior to this one, Forsberg had a cumulative shorthanded save percentage of 89.3 and Korpisalo 84.6 (worth noting when you sign someone to a $20M contract but I digress). That marks a significant drop over 5% to 83.0 for Forsberg and 79.4 for Korpisalo this season. Does Zac Bierk still work for the Sens and/or should he?
Can Ottawa walk the razor's edge?
A lot of folks have already written about it but I think it remains a pertinent topic: Brady Tkachuk has too much value offensively to spend so much time in the penalty box. You could argue that with so little depth up front, Ottawa can't really afford to go any period of time without a member of their top six available off the bench. That said, this team ranks second in the NHL with 13.7 PIM per game. And, yes, the defence needs to shoulder some of that responsibility too. I don't need to say it again but when your penalty kill hangs out at the bottom of the league rankings, don't take penalties.
Of course on the other side of said coin, the Sens also draw more penalties than any team in the league with 14.3 PIM against per game. So you have the argument for playing as recklessly as the Sens do. Given the woes of the powerplay, you kind of have to wonder how much the team really benefits from all those drawn penalties. This team has a -8 differential in net powerplay goals and -2 in shorthanded goals so, again, special teams don't seem to have done Ottawa a lot of favours through 30 games.
I didn't set out in writing this article with the intention of drafting a premature autopsy report. Like most fans, I think this roster has way too much talent to languish so far out of the playoff picture. Replacing your GM and coach early in the season doesn't guarantee any sort of dividends but given the results to date, it also can't hurt shaking the organization up. A lot of the stats I pulled paint a bleak image but I also think they sell this team short in a lot of respects. These are questions, not definitive visions of the future. They are things that can be fixed. It ain't over until it's over.