Where have the Pesky Sens gone?

How is an Ottawa Senators team that is so similar to last year's club playing so much worse?

The Ottawa Senators had a great campaign in the shortened 2012-2013 season, and hopes were high for this year's club. Why shouldn't they be? After making the playoffs last season with a depleted roster, the Senators saw the return of key players in Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, and Milan Michalek, and the additions of Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur. On paper, it looked like a team that would be even better, with most fans and experts pegging them as a top team in the East.

Unfortunately, things haven't played out that way, as the Senators currently sit 21st in the league and out of a playoff spot. It's not just their position that is concerning: it's their performance. Scott from The 6th Sens posted a graph yesterday which shows where the current iteration of the Senators stand amongst teams of the past:

Not only does this team not stack up well against last year's club, it doesn't stack up well against most Ottawa Senators teams. And there have been some bad Ottawa Senators teams.

So where did the Senators go wrong? After all, they gained a bunch of healthy bodies, and the losses of Alfredsson and Silfverberg were offset by Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, who have been two of Ottawa's best players so far. The loss of Peter Regin was offset by, well, the fact that it was just Peter Regin. Realistically, the biggest holes left unfilled were those of Sergei Gonchar and Andre Benoit, but Benoit was rarely used and the return of Erik Karlsson, even on one leg, should have made up for the loss. Yet something's different than last year: this year's team is terrible.

Here's a comparison from last year to this year:

2012-2013 2013-2014
Fenwick Close 54% 46.9%
Goal Differential +12 -4
Avg. Shot Differential Per Game +1.9 -5.8
Team Shooting Percentage 7.0% 9.4%
Team Save Percentage .933 .918

What you'll see is that aside from shooting percentage (a stat the Senators finished last in the league in 2012-13), this year's iteration is worse in every category. The most concerning is Fenwick Close -- a measure of puck possession when the score is close -- where we see a massive downturn from last year's team. Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs last year, only one had a Fenwick Close lower than 49%. Ottawa is at 46.9% this year.

The change in puck possession and shots is what is killing this year's club. The regression in goaltending, although steep, is deceiving: the Senators are still eighth in the league in save percentage. They're also ninth in shooting percentage, meaning this year's Senators are a top-10 team in the league in scoring on the shots they take and stopping the ones they face.

The very simple problem facing the Senators is that they are shooting less than other teams and being shot on more than other teams. This is the difference between good clubs and bad ones, hence last year's club was a good team and this year's is a bad one.

The difficulty with this very simple problem is finding the solution, particularly when you consider that most of the roster is the same as the one that played so well last year (although one might point out that two of the players who returned from injury, Michalek and Spezza, are two of the biggest culprits for getting outshot and outscored when they are on the ice). Where are those pesky Sens?

The Senators are already a quarter through the season, which means Paul MacLean and his coaching staff are running out of time to right the ship. Somewhere within this roster is the team that turned heads the last two seasons by outworking and outshooting their opponents, but we haven't seen it yet. Hopefully we see it soon.

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