Now that the Ottawa Senators’ season is underway, coach Paul MacLean can turn his focus away from picking his team towards building his team. There were no real surprises as the Sens broke camp, but that had more to do with injuries than a certain player outright winning a spot.
Injuries to Peter Regin and Jesse Winchester have opened the door for Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa to show the staff, at least for the next few weeks, that they can continue to improve. Both rookies played well enough to earn an extended look; they now have to play like they should remain full time. Zibanejad seemed to have an inside track, but that is due in part to the Sens having less options with him in determining where he plays this season. GM Bryan Murray has stated he will be here for the year, but the organization still has up to nine games to officially decide his fate.
Da Costa will see minutes. He continues to impress with his subtle game. He is known for his offense, but it is his attention to little details ( hustling back, passing to the right man, lifting a stick, getting in passing lanes ) that will give him a great shot at sticking around.
On the back end, David Rundblad will start with the defense corps, giving Ottawa eight blue liners. Matt Carkner will be out another month after surgery, while Chris Phillips is not 100%. Keeping Rundblad gives him a chance to continue to adjust to the NHL style, while giving Ottawa another healthy body.
A major concern heading into the 2011-2012 season is goal scoring. There is talent on the roster, it just happens to be inexperienced or injury prone. Finding consistency in this area will be an important factor this year. Jason Spezza will be a point a game player but who else will contribute on a nightly basis?
Milan Michalek when healthy can be a 25-30 goal winger. Same with Daniel Alfredsson, who says his off season back surgery is close to 100% healthy. After those three, the depth drops off. Nikita Filatov, Bobby Butler, Da Costa, Colin Greening and Nick Foligno will all have to find a way to contribute.
For now, Ottawa has a hard road ahead. A new coach with a new system, rookies and young players in prominent roles and key players rebounding from a poor season or injury puts this team behind most in the Eastern Conference. What will be important for the franchise going forward is effort, and development. That will be the measure of success early.