Who Will Replace Marc Methot?
Injured Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot has been declared "day-to-day" with a knee sprain by team officials after collided awkwardly with an Islander player and the end boards in the second period of last night's game. Hopefully we'll see Methot back on the ice in a few days, but if his injury is more "Craig Anderson day-to-day" what does that mean for the Senators?
Without Methot, the Sens blue line is in tough. Sergei Gonchar is currently playing like he's still in Pittsburgh feeding saucer passes to his best-bud Evgeni Malkin, but can that continue without Methot? Gonchar is leading the blue line in ice time: averaging two minutes more of ice time per game than Methot. Gonchar averages almost 1:40 PP TOI/60 than the next Senator (Wiercioch) and averages almost three minutes on the PK each game. Methot is Ottawa's even strength TOI leader on the backend (19:06 ES TOI/60) and averages 3:25 PK TOI/60, trailing only Chris Phillips (3:36 ES TOI/60). Those are big minutes to eat up and can Gonchar, who turns 39 on April 13, realistically be asked for more? Gonchar has logged big minutes all season, but only once has he played over 30 minutes (30:13 March 13, against the Canadians). Realistically, he might already be at his max minutes, as the Sens have tried to compensate for the loss of Erik Karlsson.
Chris Phillips and Eric Gryba are obvious candidates for increased minutes with Methot out, as they play similar defensive styles. Yesterday I outlined how Gryba was already playing more minutes than Paul MacLean would like. Gryba is already averaging more than two minutes on the PK per game and has been getting shredded at even strength against difficult competition (-20.9 Corsi Rel; 1.349 Corsi Rel QoC). Marc Methot plays tough even strength minutes (1.010 Corsi Rel QoC) and Gryba should not be challenged any more than he already is. Same goes for Chris Phillips. The veteran's special-teams play has been resurgent this season and he is contributing offensively; however, he has struggled at even strength against opposition which is far from challenging (Corsi Rel -0.5; 0.090 Corsi Rel QoC).
Andre Benoit could see his minutes increase in the coming days, but MacLean has been reluctant to use Benoit so far. Playing just 16:02/60, Benoit has also averaged only 0:34 PK TOI/60. While he's performed well at even strength (7.3 Corsi Rel) he's faced easy competition (-0.739 Corsi Rel QoC), which suggests MacLean wishes to keep Benoit away from the opposition's best offensive threats. What about Mike Lundin if he gets healthy? Probably not. While Lundin has faced tougher competition than some of Ottawa's defensemen (0.602 Corsi Rel QoC) he's struggled at even strength (-16.2 Corsi Rel; a trend the last few seasons). Lundin's average ice time (14:43 TOI/60) is the lowest of any Ottawa defender not named Mark Borowiecki. MacLean was hesitant to use Lundin on the PK (0:33 PK TOI/60) and the PP (0:17 PP TOI/60). Lundin's sample size is small, but his TOI suggest Ottawa's coaches don't have a lot of confidence in him.
Is there any help left on the farm? Um, no. If Paul MacLean has been trying his best to shelter Patrick Wiercioch as the rookie defenseman adjusts to the NHL, he won't want to throw any of Ben Blood, Fredrik Claesson, Michael Sdao or Chris Wideman into an NHL stretch drive. Tyler Eckford and Mark Borowiecki are currently injured. There's always Brett Lebda, but there's a reason he's in the AHL to begin with and if he were recalled would be subject to waivers.
If Methot is out for any more than a couple of weeks, Bryan Murray may have to act. The Senators are unlikely to go out and land a top defenseman; however, adding a fourth or fifth defenseman, someone capable of playing reliable NHL minutes would be a positive way of shoring up a depleted and increasingly inexperienced blue line. At least the next five games are at home and MacLean will have the luxury of line matching; he'll need every little advantage he can get to keep this ship steady.