The Senators haven’t been this good in the defensive and neutral zone for an awfully long time.
Their breakout? Impeccable - quicker and smoother than ever. Their entry? Extremely effective - it’s difficult to recall the last time they resorted to a dump-in on the man advantage. Their defensive structure? Outstanding - the team is second in blocks per game. Overall play without the puck? Solid - currently sitting at fifth in goals against per game.
But while the pucks may be staying out of their net, they’re not going in the other one quite as easily.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” said Senators forward Bobby Ryan after practice on Monday. “I know we all leave the rink thinking about it and we text each other about the opportunities we’ve had.”
Currently sitting 27th in the league in goals for per game, Ottawa manage to put an average of just 2.20 pucks past the goaltender every 60 minutes.
If you ask head coach Guy Boucher, his players are definitely buying into what he preaches in their half of the ice, but haven’t been carrying out the necessary tasks deep in enemy territory.
“It’s clear,” he explained. “It’s one thing. It’s our work around the net.
“Yesterday, we shot 18 times from the side of the net - that’s on top of our 34 shots. That’s a lot of shots. We’re not going to get more than that. That’s already tons. What we do around the net when the shots are taken, that’s what’s deficient. It’s deficient because the screen is not in front of the goaltender, because the rebound is not fought for, because the minute we get a second chance, we’re out of the picture.”
Claiming “76 percent of NHL goals are dirty goals,” it’s crystal clear what Boucher’s message is.
And it’s the same for the power play.
The Senators have scored a league worst four measly goals on the man advantage. Three of them have been achieved while the netminder was heavily screened.
It worked against the Coyotes when Mike Hoffman fired a shot that was tipped by Ryan, who had two feet well in the crease. It worked against the Flames when Erik Karlsson blistered home a slap shot from the point past Brian Elliott, who could see more of Mark Stone’s backside than the ice in front of him. And it worked once more in Calgary when Kyle Turris utilized his patented wrister to pick the top corner while Zack Smith posted up an inch or two outside the blue paint.
At his introductory press conference, Boucher remarked that he loved an accelerated power play. Right now, the Senators’ two minutes of five-on-four is anything but accelerated.
They have little trouble making their way past the blue line, setting up and moving the puck around, but seldom is it with much urgency at all. During preseason play, we saw quick passes, little hesitation to shoot when given the opportunity and strategic routes run by players on the half wall. Since the exhibition games, the five attacking players are failing to replicate the quick and precise movement of both themselves and the puck that we witnessed before the regular season began.
A little more emphasis on speed and a man stationed in front might just do the trick.
At five-on-five, when the team is struggling to produce offense, which has been the case the last nine games, Boucher is never reluctant to mess with the line combinations in hopes of generating a spark.
And while Senators teams of the recent past have found it difficult to keep up with a continual game of musical chairs, Boucher’s Sens are fully on board when it comes to frequently trading places.
“When you’re where we’re at, you’ve got to find something to jump start it,” admitted Ryan. “Sometimes that’s a shift with a different linemate because you get a different view. Maybe Brass and I aren’t getting to the net one night and he throws Pyatt with us or someone like Smitty that brings a different element. I don’t mind it.”
Heck, at this point, they’re up for just about anything if it means scoring a few more.
“What do we have to lose, right? Offensively, what do we have to lose?”