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:
|DJ (26 Games)
|Martin (9 Games)
|5v5 xGF% (SVA)
|5v5 CF% (SVA)
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:
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: