What are the Ottawa Senators’ Weaknesses, Anyway?

With a 4-2-0 start, the Senators have shown they don’t have many glaring holes on the roster anymore

I can’t keep talking about how fantastic the Ottawa Senators have looked so far this season, especially in their four straight wins. Not only do they have a solid 4-2-0 record, but they also have the 6th-best goal differential (+7), and sit 8th in CF% (53.36%) and 5th in xGF% (56.93%). That’s a tiny sample, but they have been winning and deserving to win, which is a great indicator that this success could be something to believe in.

What’s admirable about this success is that the entire lineup has been contributing. It’s not the Senators of the past where it was just one dangerous line scoring. No, it’s been a whole team effort so far, and I’ve hardly noticed any glaring weaknesses. So what are those weaknesses that will have to be addressed, anyway? Let’s go through the whole roster to see:

First Line

Nope. Brady Tkachuk has ten points in six games, and Drake Batherson has nine. Tim Stützle only has one goal but he also has five assists, which is a point-per-game pace. The trio has a 57.58 CF% and a whopping 65.89 xGF% in 69 minutes together, which puts them amongst the NHL’s most productive lines. This is an elite first line.

Second Line

Alex DeBrincat is off to a “slow start” with only six points in six games. Claude Giroux is a perfect complement below Batherson on the right side as he has four points so far. Josh Norris’ injury complicates things here because if he’s healthy, this is another fantastic line for Ottawa. If he’s only out for several weeks instead of months, this is still a strength for the Senators. But if he’s out for most of the season, then Derick Brassard won’t be the answer there. Shane Pinto would get moved up in that scenario, but he’s only played on the third line so far so I’ll keep him there for this analysis. The good news is that even if Pinto has to move up, that second line will still be very good.

Third Line

As mentioned, Pinto has been on this line with Tyle Motte and Mathieu Joseph every game so far. I’d say it’s definitely being driven by Pinto with his five goals and one assist, although Motte also has two goals and four assists, and Joseph only has two assists but still looks effective overall. This trio is great as a third line because they can contribute offensively but will also help defensively. The only issue is if Norris is out for a long time and Pinto has to get moved up, in which case, Brassard might be on this line in the long run.

Brassard did score in his first game on Monday, so it’s not as if he’s totally useless, although he and Pinto aren’t nearly as good of a combination as Norris and Pinto. Perhaps Ridly Greig could take this spot later in the season, but that’s still a question mark. If everyone is healthy, the top three lines don’t have any real weaknesses.

Fourth Line

The energy line with Parker Kelly, Mark Kastelic, and Austin Watson has scored two goals thus far, both from Kastelic. That’s not their role though, as they have done a good job to bring physicality and toughness. They are definitely the weakest of the four lines though (even when adjusted for expectations), as they have just a 45.42 xGF% together. That’s in barely under 30 5v5 minutes, so there is time for improvement.

Kelly and Kastelic seem destined to be on Ottawa’s fourth line for a while, although they could probably upgrade on Watson at some point. Upgrading anyone on the fourth line isn’t a very pressing need, but someone more effective defensively on the right side could benefit them.

First Pairing

Thomas Chabot hasn’t been as good as he can be so far, although he’s still a top-pairing player, and Artem Zub looks even better. Their 50.39 xGF% can be better, although they don’t need to be carrying everything anymore. This is still a good top pairing, even if it might not be amongst the league’s best.

Second Pairing

Jake Sanderson, take a bow. He has surpassed expectations so far as he has looked dominant at both ends of the ice and seemingly never makes any mistakes. He and Travis Hamonic have combined for a 58.87 xGF%, which is unheard of for a Senators’ second pairing. It’s hard to isolate the numbers between those two, although from the eye test it seems clear that Sanderson is the one carrying this pair.

Hamonic isn’t great with the puck and tends to make some careless coverage mistakes in his own zone. That isn’t to say he’s unplayable by any means, but even Pierre Dorion knows that he’s more of a third-paring player. Clearly this pairing has been good enough so far, so perhaps they can keep this going. However, this is the most obvious area the Senators can improve—a right-shot defenseman to play with Sanderson. Good luck with that, Pierre.

Third Pairing

Erik Brännström looks like a new player this season, which would be such a big development for Ottawa. Hopefully it can last though because he’s had stretches of games like this before. Nevertheless, Brännström and Nick Holden actually have the highest xGF% amongst the three pairings at 61.08%. Brännström has been a big part of the offense when he’s on the ice, and it’s no surprise that the Senators are doing so much better now that they have a good puck-mover on each pairing.

Holden is in a similar category to Hamonic where he’s fine, especially in a limited role. He brings leadership capabilities as well, so I’m more than fine with having him here. Plus if Ottawa upgraded the right side, he would get pushed to the seventh defenseman role, which would be quite the luxury. I don’t see any weakness here unless Holden has to play every single game.


It’s too early to even really comment on this. Cam Talbot hasn’t played at all, Anton Forsberg has been about average with a .904 SV% in five games, and Magnus Hellberg was great in his first game. However, all three goalies are not really ones to steal games. If Forsberg and Talbot are healthy, that’s about an average 1-2 punch, with perhaps some room to upgrade, although that would be quite difficult to do so. I wouldn’t call this a weakness, but there are question marks about all three of them whether it be their track record, age, or injuries. They’re probably good enough, but the goaltending isn’t nearly as good as the offense.

Special Teams

This can’t be attributed to just a few players, but it’s still relevant when discussing their weaknesses. Ottawa’s powerplay is scoring at a rate of 9.28 GF/60, which is 10th overall. Despite their expected numbers ranking only 18th, I bet their actual number only goes up, as they continue to look dangerous. On the penalty kill, they rank 19th in GA/60 at 8.06, although their expected goals against per 60 is only 6.56, which ranks 10th. What does it all mean? Their special teams are probably about average so far, but there is room to grow. I’d say the penalty kill is something that can improve on, and a second-pairing defenseman would make a massive difference there.


Before reading this article, you could have probably already identified which areas are the Senators weaknesses. Still though, it’s reassuring to see it spelled out like this because of how many positive developments there have been in order to make this a well-oiled machine.

I’d break down their needs like this:

Definite need: right-shot second-pairing defenseman

Luxury: fourth-line right winger, goaltender, depth centre (if Norris is out long-term)—could be Greig

Anything beyond that would seemingly be diminishing returns. It’s crazy that Ottawa’s in this spot now because it was only a few seasons ago that Tkachuk and Chabot were the only sure things in the lineup. Does this mean they’re guaranteed a playoff spot? Absolutely not. The Atlantic Division is ridiculous this season, although I really like their chances with this roster.

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