Five Thoughts For Friday
Four straight wins feels all the better heading into a lengthy break.
Everything was terrible just over a week ago. Of course, at the time we didn’t know the Ottawa Senators were about to embark on a four-game winning streak, including three triumphs over division rivals, by a combined 16-6 score. Those who were feeling down about the team certainly weren’t overreacting, rather, they might have been reacting for the wrong reasons. It’s hard to say there’s been some monumental change to the way the Sens have been playing. They’re merely getting some goals, saves, and bounces; and it’s about damn time.
Well, we all knew this was going to happen eventually. While they haven’t been outshooting the opposition as much as before, an onslaught of offense has come in the last four games. Eight points for Claude Giroux. Six for Tim Stützle. 4 for Brady Tkachuk. Alex DeBrincat and Drake Batherson have chipped in a couple of points each as well. At first glance, you can look at the new lines and wonder how they’ve improved their production, but I suspect this is nothing more than a bit of positive regression for the team’s shooting percentage. That’s not to say that D.J. Smith’s “worker on every line” approach hasn’t been a welcome change, however. For example...
Yes, Other Players Can Score Too, Apparently!
Not only have the team’s top scorers been on a collective heater, but several depth players have been contributing to the cause as well. Sharing the wealth amongst each of the top three lines has allowed more players to get in on the offense. Shane Pinto, Derick Brassard, and Ridly Greig each have a couple of points on the four-game winning streak, while Mathieu Joseph has three. I can’t imagine that would be the case if they all played on the same line together. None are legit top-six players, but they have enough of an offensive toolkit that they can create plays with more established guys like Giroux and DeBrincat.
Pinto and Brassard couldn’t handle top-six minutes, but they can form a strong third line with Batherson, and I’ve always been an advocate for Joseph playing alongside Tkachuk. He’s shown he can do it in the past, and it allows for a better middle-six as well.
We’re also seeing defensemen getting in on the action. All six D in the lineup have at least a point during what could be the run of the season. Yes, even Erik Brannstrom! Nick Holden has two, while Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson have four each.
<INSERT GARY GALLEY JOKE HERE>
In particular, the 28th pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft has stood out. Apart from the excitement of seeing all three first-rounders from that class on the ice together, Greig has given us many more things to talk about in just four games.
It’s been discussed at length that Greig plays a physical style — he gets under the skin of opposing players and will most definitely throw a few suspension-worthy hits throughout his career, and it’s these traits through which we see some similarities to the notorious Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson. The most important quality about this type of player, however, is that they historically have been very effective at generating quality scoring chances, and Greig (so far) is no exception.
In his four games on a line with DeBrincat and Giroux, Greig has been a positive influence at both ends of the ice, especially in the offensive zone. With a sample size as small as his, you’re bound to see some unsustainable numbers when looking at analytics, but his nine shots on goal in his NHL debut and 5v5 shot map from HockeyViz (red good blue bad) are indicators that he’s adept at generating offensive opportunities and keeping the puck in the offensive zone nonetheless.
“Things have a way of evening out” — Jerry Seinfeld
However, the area in which things have turned around the most for the Senators has been good old-fashioned luck. I could’ve sworn the Habs hit the post at least five different times in that 5-0 win on Friday. You know that in November, three of those would’ve ended up in the back of the Sens’ net. Just look at some of these game-winning goals from throughout the season. First, a couple of instances of very questionable goaltending from Cam Talbot:
And then, in what appears to be a reenactment of the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite”, everything abruptly turns around, with two-recent game-winning goals deflecting off of opposing players:
Derick Brassard gives Ottawa the lead as the second powerplay unit stays hot! #GoSensGo— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) January 28, 2023
Another assist for Giroux and Sanderson, who each have 3 points in their last 2 games. pic.twitter.com/RxCvpxfi2l
BRADY TKACHUK OWNS THE MONTREAL CANADIENS! #GoSensGo— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) February 1, 2023
Four point night for Stützle as well. 😳 pic.twitter.com/rDq32ndwoi
Granted, a ton of pucks still need to go in the back of the net for the Sens to be anything other than a ridiculously unlucky 5-on-5 team. Despite scoring 11 5v5 goals in their last four games, NaturalStatTrick has them dead last this season, shooting 6.47%, which is far back of the pack when you consider the Minnesota Wild are 29th in that same stat at 7.71%. I certainly wouldn’t bet on things perfectly evening out by the end of the season, but I can think of a lot of stranger outcomes than the Ottawa Senators earning a wildcard berth this year.
A Few More Important Points
So, six points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final playoff spot, with the latter having a game in hand. Additionally, the Buffalo Sabres are still moving quickly up the standings, while the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are recovering as well. Don't let the seemingly small gap in points fool you, there’s still a mountain to climb. Though when I look at the standings, one thing I find interesting is the number of wins the Sens have — 24, which is equal to Pittsburgh. The difference, of course, is the Penguins’ nine loser points compared to Ottawa’s three.
I think back to when the Sens had a 6-9-1 (nice) record, with a plus-1 goal differential. You’d think there would be a few more losses in extra time with a record like that.
I bring this up because it’s another potential source of regression for the Senators. Loser points have a lot of value in this league, and the Senators can not only gain ground by continuing to win games, but also by keeping things close in the ones they lose. And maybe, a few other teams will lose just a bit more often in regulation, perhaps enough to make a tangible difference in the standings.