Ottawa: Senatorial Privilege

by | Dec 29, 2016

Ottawa: Senatorial Privilege

by | Dec 29, 2016

The 2016/17 season will probably be marked in the hockey history books as being the season of reversed expectations; a season where pre-season predictions were stood on their head and teams that were expected to fail succeeded and teams expected to succeed failed significantly. The Ottawa Senators are living proof of this. Most hockey experts picked the Sens to finish anywhere between fifth and seventh in the Atlantic Division. Instead Ottawa has confounded the gloomy prognosticators and have remained among the top three teams in the Atlantic since the season began; presently a close second to Montreal; and the ninth best team in the NHL.

What is so confounding about Ottawa’s success is that no answers can be deduced from the team stats. In terms of overall offense and power play offense the Sens are below average. In terms of penalty-killing they are average. It’s only in overall defense they rank among the top ten in the league. Two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson is Ottawa’s franchise player and top point producer (he leads the Sens in assists and points scored). Karlsson sets the table for his teammates to score with ease. His defensive partner Marc Methot holds down the defensive end with a plus/minus of +14 (the best on the team). Mark Borowiecki and Dion Phaneuf augment Karlsson’s offensive wizardry with ample muscle (Borowiecki ranks among the top five in penalty minutes). Indeed the Senators are playing with greater meanness, ranking seventh in the NHL in team penalty minutes.

Another surprise hero is Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson. In the pre-season the nattering nabobs of hockey negativity bemoaned Anderson’s 35 years of age and considered him a past-tense goaltender but the graybeard goalie is proving his detractors wrong with solid if not spectacular goaltending. His partner between the pipes Mike Condon has also performed consistently.

So where does this resurgence come from? The Ottawa Senators are an aging team with nearly ¼ of their roster in their 30s. How do they get motivated to play like junior hockey players? The answer can be found in their new head coach Guy Boucher. Guy Boucher is not new to the NHL. He had nearly three seasons of coaching the Tampa Bay Lightning when he was fired 32 games into the 2012/13 season. In his rookie season as an NHL coach he had led the upstart Tampa Bay Lightning to within one win of reaching the 2010/11 Stanley Cup finals when they lost game seven of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins.

Guy Boucher is more motivator than chess-master. In the 2010/11 playoffs he made a spectacle of himself literally throwing lefts and rights behind the bench and goading his young charges at Tampa to outdo themselves—which they did until the clock struck midnight in game seven and the Cinderella Lightning became pumpkins again. The problem for Boucher was he could not replicate his initial success, falling shorter in subsequent years.

The Ottawa Senators are not young upstarts although they have a lovely core of Young Turks in Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Mike Condon, Mark Borowiecki, and Kyle Turris who are entering their primes. Guy Boucher has balanced these Young Turks with his graybeards and they have regained their youth and desire but will they exceed expectations come playoff time in April? Will they become the Cinderella team of the Eastern Conference and defy expectations like the Lightning did in 2010/11 with Guy Boucher at the helm?

The question for Guy Boucher is whether he learned from the mistakes he made in Tampa and is working to avoid them here in Ottawa? Can he maintain what he failed to maintain in Tampa.

That’s the question that is left hanging from the rafters of the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.

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