Look, I’ll try to make this as optimistic of an article as possible but the Ottawa Senators did me no favours with an absolute stinker against a team resting its starters to close out the home schedule. With just one game to go (tonight in Philly) I want to find some silver linings to give us some hope that the Sens can finally turn it around next season. Starting from ownership down to management and coaching, none of us know what to expect in the coming months. This team desperately needs a culture change to return to that bygone era of perennial playoff appearances but we could just as easily end up in a desert of decade-long mediocrity—optimism—I can do this!
While I can certainly understand the argument that a budget team can’t have almost $10M against the cap tied up in goalies, Anton Forsberg has played really well this season and as I explained at length, I believe the Matt Murray of yesterday still exists somewhere. Ottawa also has a couple of solid goaltending prospects. And, keep in mind that Murray’s contract more than likely ends up on LTIR than anything else at this rate. I want to focus on numbers and not conjecture though.
While Ottawa’s goaltenders struggle in some realms, they have thrived on the penalty kill (where the team curiously struggled for much of the season (more on that to come)). Forsberg ranks second in the NHL in total penalty kill goals saved above average (13.08). Only Igor Shesterkin (who will likely win the Vezina) has more GSAA on the PK. Since the deadline specifically, on the penalty kill Fosrberg still ranks just behing Shsterkin (3.40 GSAA compared to 3.55). Talk about elite company for Horny Dog. Worth noting, Murray also stayed on the positive side of the ledger with 1.29 GSAA shorthanded.
At five on five (where the Sens have suffered as a team (more below)) Ottawa’s goaltenders have struggled as Forsberg only ranks in the top 20 in GSAA at 4.42. Since the trade deadline, Filip Gustavsson has outplayed Forsberg with 3.73 GSAA compared to 3.24 (at five-on-five). If nothing else, the Sens still have a lot of healthy internal competition.
For much of the season, Ottawa gave up as much on the penalty kill as any team in the NHL and their goaltending had to bail them out on a nightly basis. Since the trade deadline though, Ottawa has significantly righted the ship, now ranking top-three in the league at 5.81 expected goals against per 60 on the penalty kill while their shorthanded save percentage of 88.8 only ranks eighth in the league.
Now if you’re an asshole like me then you immediately look at the departure of Josh Brown and credit the improved penalty kill to his absence but at the same time, Travis Hamonic has quickly become Ottawa’s worst penalty-killer (table below). You cannot make this shit up, folks.
If you, like me, have enjoyed head coach DJ Smith’s experiment with youngsters on the PK then I have good news because Erik Brännström and Parker Kelly have conceded less than anyone on Ottawa’s penalty kill since the deadline. Josh Norris shorthanded hasn’t worked out quite as well. Mathieu Joseph has also struggled in limited minutes and has had zero luck goaltending-wise. We can take some solace knowing that Ottawa’s suddenly functional penalty kill could largely remain in tact for next year with the likes of Nikita Zaitsev, Nick Holden, and Connor Brown still under contract.
Looking at the success the Senators did enjoy this season, we can attribute much to the powerplay. After all, this team has five good players. The lack of depth kills them. Since the deadline, said powerplay has ranked 12th in the league with 8.07 expected goals per 60 and an even better shooting percentage rank (ninth in the league at 16%).
Now, like most teams, the Sens face the dilemma of whether to keep intact their one effective powerplay unit two create two viable options. One thing I’ll say to this effect, Ottawa has two very good powerplay quarterbacks in Thomas Chabot and Brännström, Based on the numbers below, I would argue Brännström has even outperformed Chabot of late.
Forever the Colin White fanboy, I love to report that based on the numbers, White has looked like Ottawa’s best powerplay forward outside of the big four. Players like Brown and Alex Formenton haven’t quite gotten it done but maybe forwards like Joseph or Shane Pinto could lend themselves to an effective second unit with one of the aforementioned quarterback options. Interestingly enough (going again by the table below) other than Brännström and Chabot, the expected and actual goals line up in this small sample.
|Michael Del Zotto||3.51||0|
Five on Five
Now considering the Sens will once again draft in the top-ten this summer, you have to know they struggled at five-on-five, and that trend continued well after the trade deadline. Both offence and defence performed poorly and this led to an expected goals for percentage of 46.12 at five-on-five since the deadline (25th in the NHL over that span). Ottawa can attribute their limited five-on-five success to a shooting percentage of 8.64 that ranks 18th and a save percentage of 92.58 that ranks fourth (imagine this team without exceptional goaltending! Yeesh!).
Looking at the numbers in the table below, Joseph really redeemed Ottawa’s five-on-five play since the deadline, even if we factor in the small sample size and the fortunate bounces. Shaan already wrote about it at length, but Ottawa might have quite a player in Joseph. On the other end of the spectrum, I lament that the Adam Gaudette experiment failed spectacularly. I had high hopes for Gaudette like a lot of you but he ranks dead last going by on-ice expected goals among the forwards with significant five-on-five minutes for Ottawa since the deadline. Colin White Applogists again get some vindication here as the nerd numbers really favour White despite a lot of lousy luck (the same goes for Brown). Parker Kelly has turned into a very promising internally-developed option for meaningful depth minutes but he has very bizarre results wherein pucks just always go in the net when he hits the ice (see the table).
Five on Five (Forwards)
|Player||xGF/60||xGA/60||xGF%||On-Ice SH%||On-Ice SV%|
Speaking of expected goals versus reality, Victor Mete continues to live up to his reputation as a nerd stats darling who simply has no puck luck. Looking at Chabot’s results I have to assume his latest injury has lingered or maybe all the big minutes from earlier in the season have simply caught up to him. Either way, I expect the Chabot we know and love to get back to the top of the chart next season. As an Erik Brännström apologist, I want to make a hundred excuses for his poor performance at five-on-five since the deadline but I won’t. He needs to bounce back from this. It runs deeper than poor shooting luck.
Five on Five (Defence)
|Player||xGF/60||xGA/60||xGF%||On-Ice SH%||On-Ice SV%|
|Michael Del Zotto||2.43||2.41||50.18||11.90||92.86|
Quick question: What do Vegas, Nashville, and Pittsburgh all have in common? Losing more games than Ottawa since the deadline, baby. The Sens may have done it the “wrong” way (through special teams and percentages) but they won some games in the past month to keep us entertained when we could have just as easily tuned out. I would argue that the team has improved in some meaningful ways since I wrote this piece before the deadline and now we just have to see if unlike last season, management trusts the roster it has or if they go on another bizarre shopping spree this summer (Michael Del Zotto?!).
Before parting, I will once again remind you that all stats come courtesy of naturalstattrick (and these stats do not include the Florida game). I also want to, in all sincerity, thank you the reader for another (often grueling but ultimately memorable) season of Ottawa Senators hockey here at SilverSeven. Go Sens Go.
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