Five Thoughts for a Friday: Report Card Season

What are the Ottawa Senators?

Good morning and welcome back, folks. After a lengthy, and probably much-needed, repose for the Ottawa Senators, we resume actual game coverage tomorrow! The Sens have a formidable opponent awaiting them as the Oilers kinda finally look like a team properly leveraging the skills of McDavid and Draisaitl into something almost resembling contention in the Pacific division. I wouldn’t write off the Sens though and I think we should get some fairly entertaining hockey out of this one. Anyways, I meant to keep this preamble brief so let’s move on to some thoughts. Beata already debriefed you on the reality that Ottawa statistically-speaking probably can’t overcome an ~eight-point deficit in the standings with 32 games to go but for the first time in years, they can at least keep the race interesting down to the wire. How did we get here?!

On the Powerplay

While Hot Pierre Summer had several subplots, the overarching narrative focused primarily on Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux (who represented just the slightest improvement over Colin White and Connor Brown). Immediately we all got to wondering: “How much will this improve the Senators’ powerplay?” The Answer: a lot! While not solely the byproduct of signing DeBrincat and Giroux, Ottawa went from generating 7.70 expected goals per sixty on the powerplay to 9.59, and assuming a team spends about 400 minutes on the powerplay during the season that translates to twelve-plus expected goals gained on the powerplay this year. Ottawa has also improved their actual conversion substantially going from shooting 13.02 last year on the powerplay to 16.78 this year. Good times!

On the Penalty Kill

While the powerplay numbers speak for themselves, I can’t say the penalty kill numbers look so cut-and-dry, and it makes it a bit more difficult explaining the overall success the Sens have had on special teams. In terms of penalty kill expected goals against per sixty, the Senators have actually gotten worse, going from a very bad 8.22 to a lamentable 8.71 when shorthanded. Assuming, again, about 400 minutes on the penalty kill that adds up to over three total expected goals over the course of a season which may not sound like much but can make the difference to a team who may miss the postseason by just a game or two. In a rare bright spot for a goaltending tandem, that has for the most part disappointed me this season, Anton Forsberg and Cam Talbot have put up some of the best penalty kill numbers in the league and Ottawa’s team save percentage on the penalty kill has still somehow dipped from last year’s 88.96 to 88.15, and therein lies the crux of the whole special teams conversation.

On Net Special Teams Performance

To illustrate just how far the powerplay has come in a year, bear in mind the regression of the penalty kill while considering the Sens now have a +19 special teams goal differential (+17 powerplay goals and +2 shorthanded goals). Stacking their powerplay against their average opponents’ (i.e. Ottawa’s penalty kill rates) the Sens have an expected goals percentage of 52.40 (somewhat shy of their “lucky” actual goals rate of 58.60% (holy cow)) on special teams. All that to say (very incoherently, my sincerest apologies) that the Sens score a lot on the powerplay and have black ink in all the margins on special teams because of it. Now imagine if the Sens could finally sort out their penalty kill suppression, or lack thereof (uncoincidentally a lot of the players who fared poorly in our mid-season report cards have spent a lot of time ineffectively killing penalties (and then there’s Jake Sanderson)).

Special Teams Rates

PP xGF/60PK xGA/60ST xGF%PP Sh%PK Sv%ST actual GF%
9.59 (4th)8.71 (26th)52.4016.78 (4th)88.15 (6th)58.6

On goaltending

In total unfairness, I blame a lot of Ottawa’s problems this year on goaltending. You can certainly make the argument that the Sens need to play better defence in front of the crease but the numbers speak for themselves (please see tables below so I don’t have to jam even more parentheses into these paragraphs). And yet, having said this, Forsberg (to an extent) and Talbot (mostly Talbot) for whatever reason play their best hockey on the penalty kill. By the numbers, Talbot has played well below league average at five-on-five but looks absolutely elite on the kill. If ever the Sens wanted to get really Moneyball with this and start experimenting with goaltenders like relief pitchers, then do it now you cowards! Run Forsberg at even strength, Talbot on special teams, and watch money rain down from the sky.


NameAll GSAA/60Rank (750m)5V5 GSAA/60Rank (600m)PK GSAA/60Rank (60m)
Forsberg-0.0234th tied-0.1035th-0.1631st
Talbot-0.0234th tied-0.4349th2.783rd

On Five-on-Five Improvements

Remember when everyone wanted Pierre Dorion to fire DJ Smith? Yeah I know a lot of people still feel that way. And I know I ragged on the penalty kill. Although I would point fingers first at the goalies that Dorion has acquired and the penalty killers Dorion still employs before I would point any fingers at Smith for the team’s shortcomings this season. Don’t get me wrong, Smith has made some mistakes but I have a lot of positive things to say about the Sens’ coaching staff this season. And let’s talk about those things!

The Sens have gone from a meagre 2.35 expected goals per sixty at five-on-five last season to a solid 2.87 (that would have ranked third in the NHL last year). I still don’t know what to tell you (does anyone?) about the shooting woes of the Sens at even strength. They struggled to the tune of 7.67% last year and this year’s mark of 6.47% just hurts to look at (obviously ranked 32nd in the league). If it makes you feel any better about the random nature of percentages in hockey, Boston, Dallas, and Winnipeg all shot at a lower clip than Ottawa last season at five-on-five—and look at them now!

On the other side of the puck, the Sens gave up 2.66 expected goals per sixty at five-on-five last season and—have held steady at that exact same rate this year. Maybe we shouldn’t feel surprised by the standings? This definitely lends itself to the argument that Ottawa first and foremost needed to shore up its defence over the offseason (but didn’t). Jake Sanderson has done his best but those minutes from Travis Hamonic, Nick Holden, and Nikita Zaitsev really add up on the other side of the ledger. And here again Ottawa has regressed from a 91.72 five-on-five save percentage last year to 90.79% this year (probably not good to lose almost a whole percentage point after “upgrading” to Talbot). All this adds up to a -28 goal differential at five-on-five and as we’ve discussed at length around here, that does not lend itself to an appearance in the postseason!

Five-on-Five Rates

5V5 xGF/605V5 xGA/605V5 xGF%5V5 Sh%5V5 Sv%5V5 actual GF%
2.87 (7th)2.66 (19th)51.89 (13th)6.47 (32nd)90.79 (25th)39.26

Have I answered anyone’s questions as to what’s going on with the Sens this year? Probably not. They do some things well. They do other things poorly. They things they do well should outweigh the things they do poorly but they haven’t had much luck when they needed it most. Should we still feel optimistic? Yes! Things have improved somewhat since last year when you look at the big picture. The staff should have a pretty straightforward job of pointing out the obvious flaws they need to rectify down the stretch to make up some points in the standings. Stay healthy, get some lucky bounces, keep drawing more penalties than you take. Keep in mind that this season has felt so agonizing at times because after five years we can finally see daylight breaking on the horizon.

As always all stats courtesy of naturalstattrick

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