When discussing the new Jacques Martin era of Ottawa Senators hockey a few caveats immediately emerge. Primarily, the Sens, given their current cap crunch haven't really changed their roster since Martin took over behind the bench. Injuries have led to overall fluctuations in talent all season long and we can't really talk about Shane Pinto's impact upon return after just two games. Secondly, change takes time. As much as Martin has promoted a responsible on-ice culture, it takes a lot longer to break old habits than it does to form new ones. And then of course we need to acknowledge the fact that Martin has now coached just 16 games (stats current as of Tuesday afternoon (sorry!)) this season and you can't put too much stock into a sample of that size. Now, with all that in mind, will I still offer some observations on what we've seen since Martin took over for DJ Smith? Yes. Yes, I will.
Let's start with the obvious: Jacques Martin has not fixed this team (yet). This team had a record of 11-15-0 (30th in the league standings) when Smith hit the bricks. In the weeks since, the Sens have a record of 6-9-1 good for 26th in the league over the same span. If this team wanted to make the playoffs then they needed a substantial response to the change behind the bench, and we have only seen the needle move ever so slightly (all things considered from the opening paragraph). As we know by now, though, the record never tells the whole story and you probably knew before you started reading that I would try to some extent to split the atom so let's start with some low-hanging fruit. Has the luck improved for this team? Well they had a -2 goal differential under Smith and a -10 goal differential under Martin so that explains why morale has only improved ever so marginally.
When talking about a losing record and a negative goal differential my mind immediately goes to goaltending and I think that has a lot to do with the Sens' poor fate to date this season. We also know, however, that goaltending makes for a nuanced discussion. Do good teams make good goalies or do good goalies make good teams? I don't have an answer to this question and I reckon the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Looking at the Cam Talbots, Filip Gustavssons, and Joey Daccords of the world I maintain my position that those goalies do not have the same success in Ottawa. Therefore, team defence must influence goaltending by my own logic. At the same time, the Sens need better goaltending to win. I can't rectify this divergence of philosophies. I like Ottawa's goalies and I think they can all put up good numbers behind a sound defence. At the same time, sometimes you just need a save.
Under Smith, the Sens had the fifth-worst all-situation save percentage in the NHL at 88.6 and the worst penalty kill goaltending in the league. Does that reflect poorly on the defence? Yes. But also Ottawa's penalty kill defence ranked middle-of-pack with an xGA/60 of 8.2 so maybe the defence didn't leave the goalies hanging out to dry. Since the coaching change, Ottawa's penalty kill goaltending has *improved* to 28th while the penalty kill defence has improved to a 12th ranked 7.62 xGA/60. I would argue the goalies need to get up to par in this case. More alarmingly, under Martin the Sens all-situation goaltending has slipped to 32nd in the league over 16 games (87.5%). Can we blame this on bad team defence?
Well, at five-on-five, the Sens have given up a league-worst 2.89 xGA/60 over the same span, so yes, we have a problem. And I find this the crux of the whole thing because again I like Ottawa's goalies and I like the defensive depth and we now have a defensive-minded coach so I don't know what to say except, "Wait and see how this plays out." Because as you may know, this team has some decent offence tucked up its collective sleeve. But before we can talk about that. We need to talk about the powerplay because really, what the hell happened there?
Under DJ Smith, the Sens powerplay had some jam. They generated 8.37xGF/60 which put them in the top-half of the league. They couldn't convert (shooting just 11.24%) but they had some good looks. Since the coaching change, the Sens have regressed to 6.54 xGF/60 and shot a league-worst 7.04% even with most of their core players healthy. Having objectively the worst powerplay in the conference will probably sewer any team that already has miserable goaltending and suspect defence. And I could probably just leave this here to die but I can't ignore the fact that this team produces more offence at even strength than they do on the powerplay. One stray thought on special teams: the Sens had a -8 special teams goal differential under Smith and have the same number under Martin. Go figure.
Alright, let's try to look at the part of the dumpster that hasn't fully immolated, namely the five-on-five offence part. Under Smith, the Sens had an underwhelming 2.49xGF/60 at five-on-five and shot 9.87% to keep them in the mix. Yes, things could have gone even worse! Imagine that. And now, under Martin? The Sens have climbed up into the league's top-five with a 2.85 xGF/60 and even with their defensive woes, the Sens sit right in the middle at 16th with a five-on-five xGF% of 49.69 so thank goodness for offence buoying mediocre teams. Somehow the Sens shooting percentage has also increased to 10.22 under Martin—so much for the defensive wizard!
I wish I had somewhere to go with all of this information but we're talking about hockey here and you know better than to expect solid conclusions. And the Sens as we've learned over the years you won't find many teams as enigmatic as our beloved SNES. I got all of these numbers from Brad's very cool website naturalstattrick.com so blame him if you don't like it. But first, look at this neat graph also courtesy of Brad because it almost, just almost, looks promising.