Five Thoughts for Friday: Confidence in DJ Smith is Waning

Thoughts on the lack of confidence in DJ Smith, November’s easy schedule, potential new ownership, and more

After another frustrating loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, here are some thoughts this Friday:

Confidence in Smith is Waning

So many of these early-season articles need to be taken with a grain of salt. Hell, right before this 4-game losing streak I was talking about how the only big need the Ottawa Senators have right now is a second-pairing right-shot defenseman, and I still stand by that—-even though they can and should look for small upgrades elsewhere too. The Sens have completed their first 10 games and have a record of 4-6-0. Not terrible, especially considering the quality of competition they’ve faced, but also not great. And it looks worse because the Eastern Conference has been a bloodbath and they’re 15th right now. Things can shift so much from week to week and month to month but, as of now, it would seem fan confidence towards DJ Smith is severely waning.

I don’t think he deserves all of the hate considering it’s still so early in the season and there have been some poor player performances as well, but it’s difficult to see how this team can be good enough defensively under the systems that Smith has had in place for 3+ seasons now. Some of that is their personnel, but a good coach is able to elevate their players. I see so much talent on this roster, but they haven’t been able to bear down and win some of these close games. One of the biggest indictments against him is this stat I found, which is pretty insane:

It never feels like they’re able to tie the game late, and that just confirms it. Perhaps they’ll be able to right the ship in that regard thanks to their recent influx of talent, but a lot of that has to be put on the coach and his staff. Some of the criticism towards Smith has been unwarranted, and He’ll definitely get a chance to right the ship, but if the season begins to go off the rails, I hope they don’t hesitate to make a change. Like I said, things change quickly in the first month, and I hope Smith’s stock goes back up.

Nikita Zaitsev Needs to Sit

Artem Zub being injured is one of the worst things that can happen to this team considering the lack of depth behind him on the right side. Nikita Zaitsev has been forced to play the last three games and has played in five total—all losses for Ottawa. That’s not all on Zaitsev obviously, but it’s hard to overstate just how poorly he has played so far. In those five games, he has a 37.84 CF% and a 39.98 xGF%, which is simply untenable for someone who has been playing 17-20 minutes the last few games.

He really is dragging down Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, and Erik Brännström, and it’s difficult to hide him on any of the pairings. It’s much easier to have sympathy for someone who is struggling due to injuries or aging but so much of his poor play has been from careless thinking or no thinking at all. I couldn’t believe my eyes when he got this delay of game penalty last night, something that is taught not to do from a young age:

I know this is beating a bit of a dead horse here, but if Ottawa wants to make up some ground in the standings, Zaitsev simply cannot play. Put Lassi Thomson, Jacob Bernard-Docker, or even Dillon Heatherington in there. You’re hurting everyone else by putting Zaitsev on the ice.

They’ll be in the Race

Last night’s second period was incredibly frustrating to watch, and it got to the point where I had to turn it off briefly because it was honestly ruining my night. The Sens weren’t even getting outshot at that point, but they were making so many careless mistakes. Although they weren’t able to complete the comeback, they at least made it close and lost 5-4. I know that the first couple of thoughts in this article are negative, but part of that stems from the frustration of knowing just how good Ottawa can be at times. The fact that they were right there and could’ve easily won the game speaks to their resiliency and ability to get back into games. For whatever else you want to say, this team never gives up.

The Sens are not a Cup contender right now and might not end up making the playoffs either, but they’re definitely too good to be a bottom-feeder, and I think they’ll be close in almost all games they play. Furthermore, they should be in the playoff race for quite a while, hopefully until they can secure a playoff berth. While the playoffs should be the goal this season, just being competitive and in the race will be a nice change of pace—let’s hope they can keep that promise.

November is Crunch Time

I hadn’t looked until last night, but Ottawa’s schedule in November after the Tampa Bay game gets much, much easier:

That’s eleven straight games against non-playoff teams from last year. Eleven. Now, some of those teams are obviously much better this season, most notably Vegas, and there are only ten left after losing the first game. New Jersey, Buffalo, and the New York Islanders have also gotten off to good starts, but none of them are exactly powerhouses. Philadelphia, Anaheim, Vancouver, and San Jose are not good teams, and there’s no excuse for Ottawa to not win at least six or seven of these ten games.

Ottawa then finishes November against Los Angeles and the New York Rangers, so there are twelve games left in the month. They desperately need to win seven of those, in which case they’d have an 11-11-0 record. Seven is the bare minimum, because even a .500 record isn’t good enough to sniff the playoffs. If they can’t secure those seven wins, I fear they’ll be too far out of the playoffs in an extremely competitive conference. There is still so much time left, but these next few weeks is when Ottawa can make some noise. We all wanted meaningful hockey games — well, here they are.

Who Will be the Next Owners?

As we all know, the Senators are unofficially for sale, and thankfully there are no shortage of interested buyers. The most interesting name (as a minority owner) is actor Ryan Reynolds, although I doubt that actually happens. Bruce Garrioch mentioned several names including Jeffrey and Michael Kimel, Jeff York, Michael Andlauer, and Andre Desmarais as possible candidates, plus who knows who else is actually involved in this process. It’s hard to have an opinion either way about any of these people/groups, but one thing’s for sure: it is great news that there are so many potential owners who want to keep the Senators in Ottawa and also have the funds to properly operate the franchise.

Having a new owner will breathe more life into the organization, and that starts with securing the LeBreton Flats arena. Considering the Senators spent a ton of money in the off-season, getting a new owner doesn’t feel quite as mandatory as it was a year ago, but it’s still necessary for a long-term future. Not all new owners are saviours, but hopefully whoever comes in will have deep enough pockets to keep this organization competitive.

It’s also been mentioned that Anna and Olivia Melnyk would like to keep a minority share with the team, and I’d love that. They can still be faces for the team, which would be good for everyone involved.

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