Ottawa Enters Break in a Playoff Spot

Senators remain in the top 8

After 52 games, did anyone see the Sens in a playoff spot? My guess is no. Yet here they are in late January and they sit in a post season spot with 60 points. Toronto, who sits ninth in the Eastern Conference are five points back. So for every game a team plays, they need to pick up 1.14 points to make the playoffs. 82 games times 1.14 points gives you 94 points. No team with 94 points in the East has missed the playoffs. Ever. Right now Ottawa is ahead of the curve.

So the question becomes, how has a team picked by most to bring up the rear of the conference, been able to stay so high in the standings? There are a few reasons.

1. Coaching staff- Coach Paul MacLean gets a boatload of the positive reviews, and he definitely deserves it. First and foremost, he assembled a staff that has been able to put in place the type of hockey the Senators want. The coaches have put together a system that the players enjoy playing in and are able to excel at. But more importantly MacLean has treated the players the way they needed to be; with respect. These are NHL players and you need an NHL coach to handle them. MacLean has brought that to Scotiabank Place and the players have responded. Confidence is as high as it has been since the Stanley Cup year.

2. Goaltending- Craig Anderson is a number one goalie in the NHL. Now nobody will confuse him with a top three ‘keeper, but he has taken the reigns here in Ottawa and run with it. A month into the season, Anderson was 6-6-1, with a GAA of 3.25. Since then he is 19-8-3, his GAA 2.85 and his save percentage has climbed from .872 to a respectable .912 ( before a recent three game slide ). There have many a night where the Senators have been out shot by 15 halfway through the game, only to come back in the third thanks to Anderson keeping them in it.

3. Players have stepped up- Three Senators have had seasons nobody could have anticipated. Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and captain Daniel Alfredsson are all leading the way offensively.

Karlsson had 45 points last year. At this point, he has 47 points with 30 games to go. Everyone knew he would put up points but it is his play in his own zone that is enabling him to play almost 26 minutes a night.

Spezza too has shown he can play a 200 foot game, something this coaching staff demands. He is a point a game player, and has teamed with Milan Michalek ( 23 goals ) to form the top line. Spezza is the youngest of the four players remaining from their Stanley Cup appearance and will most likely become the next captain of this team.

Recovering from a back surgery that limited him to 54 games last season, Alfredsson hinted this might be his last year with the Sens. But a strong first half of the season, a refreshing attitude around the team and getting voted to the All Star Game ( this week here in Ottawa ) Alfie is talking about one more year. He seems to have the step back in his game.

Obviously there are more reasons why a team gets this far. The Senators will need to maintain scoring balance and stay healthy going forward. If that can happen, this team will continue to surprise and make some noise in the east.

Trade deadline looming

The belief heading into 2011-2012 was Ottawa would be busy at the trade deadline. What most saw was they could be buyers, not sellers. Funny how winning changes things. GM Bryan Murray has stated he will not move future assets in an attempt to improve his team. He has conceded if a deal makes sense for the short term and the long term to improve the squad down the stretch, he will look at it.

Ottawa has a few UFA’s that could be moved, but likely won’t. Filip Kuba, Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka could all help a team gearing up for the playoffs. But any return for them would be minimal at best and will disrupt the chemistry of this team.

The Senators did make a significant move right before Christmas, sending a second round pick and highly coveted first year defenceman David Rundblad to Phoenix for Kyle Turris. So far that trade has worked out for Ottawa, as Turris has secured the second line center spot. In 19 games he has put up 13 points, mainly playing with Alfredsson. Acquiring a major piece to the puzzle is something better done before the trade deadline than around it. As such, it is doubtful any big moves are in the pipeline.

Where the organization could benefit from some trades is in Binghamton. Talking to a few players from last years Calder Cup winning team, they all commented how a long playoff run helped them in their development for this season. The AHL Senators have had a rough go in the first half of the season. Perhaps some veteran leadership could make them a playoff team, enabling some of their youngsters ( Andre Petersson, Mark Borowiecki, Stephane Da Costa and Mike Hoffman ) an opportunity to play in key situations during a post season.

Ottawa and the All Star Game

There are going to be many familiar faces to Ottawa fans around the All Star Game this weekend. The Sens will have Alfredsson, Spezza, Michalek and Karlsson in the big game, and Colin Greening will play in the rookie game. But if you look around, there are more than a few players with Ottawa connections.

Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and Brian Elliot are all former Senators. Elliot has been a pleasant surprise for the Blues this season, after flaming out in Ottawa and Colorado last season. Chara still gets boo’ed everytime he touches the puck in Ottawa as a Bruin and will be a captain in the game. Hossa is still a favorite, one fans in this city wished had remained a Sen for life. He may get the loudest cheer from the fans for any non Senator player.

Logan Couture and Brian Campbell are former Ottawa 67′s, having played their junior hockey under Brian Kilrea while Claude Giroux spent 3 seasons playing in the Gatineau, right across the river on the Quebec side. And if you really want to stretch it out, Jordan Eberle scored one of the most famous goals for team Canada in recent memory at Scotiabank Place against the Russians in 2009.

Extra point myth

We continually hear about the three point game, and how much of an impact it is having on the game. Especially for teams trying to make the playoffs in the last few months of a season. Well, it has no bearing whatsoever on the playoffs and who makes it over the last three years. That’s right, no team has made the playoffs based on the extra point for an overtime loss, and no team has missed it because of it either.

In 2009, Montreal and Florida ended the season with 93 points. Without the extra point both would have had 82. So nothing changes there. In the last two seasons, no team has come close to having a legit gripe about the system, as all eight teams in each conference would have comfortably made it in.

Different matchups would have occurred for sure, but again all 16 teams would have made the postseason.

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