What's Wrong With the Ottawa Senators?

What's gone wrong this season for the Ottawa Senators? Everything? Does that about cover it?

What's Wrong With the Ottawa Senators?
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

When I first set out to write this article, I had some idea about how bad things had been for this team; I have, after all, watched almost every minute of Sens hockey this season (and most seasons before that). Bad hockey is, unfortunately, something that I'm very familiar with. What I didn't anticipate was the totality of the problem: it's difficult to pinpoint a single thing that has gone well.

This season was supposed to be one of taking the much-ballyhooed next step, but compare and contrast this edition of the squad versus last year's across several key metrics:

Category 22-23 Rank 23-24 Rank DJ (26 Games) Martin (9 Games)
5v5 GF% 45.99 25th 49.04 20th 50.25 45.82
5v5 xGF% (SVA) 51.26 16th 46.53 26th 47.8 43.32
5v5 CF% (SVA) 51.02 16th 48 22nd 48.66 46.27
5v5 SV% 90.77 22nd 90.37 24th 90.34 90.43
5v5 SH% 7.53 32nd 9.85 4th 9.91 9.7
PP% 23.5 8th 16.5 24th 17.8 11.5
PK% 80.1 14th 70.9 32nd 72.4 66.7

A couple of noteworthy items from the above:

-Despite getting fewer of the chances and the shots at 5v5, this year's Ottawa team actually has a better goal share. This number is a bit deceiving though: the Sens' red-hot shooting to start the year is, predictably, regressing, and they are actually getting an even smaller share of the shots and chances as the year progresses. If anything, they are likely headed for even worse results without a dramatic improvement in their play. Now that's a sobering thought for a team that's 14-21!

-Wooof those special teams have been baaad. While last year's Sens overcame bad puck luck at 5v5 with superior performance on the power play and penalty kill, this year both the PP and the PK have stunk up the joint. Why this is the case should be the subject of a whole other article but the difference is dramatic.

What are some drivers of these subpar results? To my eye, there are four other broad explanations:

1) Goaltending

I'm not exactly breaking new ground with this first point, but it's impossible to discuss the struggles of the 2023-24 Ottawa Senators without touching on the goaltending. No matter how you slice it, the Sens' goalies have struggled. They are posting an .887 SV% across all situations – 28th in the league. While some of that is undoubtedly due to the at times porous defense in front of them, the Sens are dead last in the league in GAR (Goals Above Replacement) for goalies at -10.5 per Evolving Hockey.

How does that translate into actual goals? Micah McCurdy's Hockeyviz has the Sens goalies allowing 16 more goals than you'd expect based on the quantity and quality of shot they've faced. For a team that's only played 35 games, that's a lot – those 16 goals on their own are worth 3-4 wins depending on how you do the math.

2) Defensive Depth

When the Senators acquired Jakob Chychrun last year, the delight among fans was palpable: finally, a top four on the backend that was worthy of a play-off contender. Unfortunately, both Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub have missed time with injuries, forcing Jacob Bernard-Docker and Travis Hamonic, two players projected to be fighting for minutes on the third pair, into more prominent roles. Not to put too fine a point on the thing, but look at the Sens' results when neither is on the ice:

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