That’s how many games in a row Ottawa has given up the first goal. (Ed note: I got this stat from TSN’s game notes, but they scored first against the Panthers a few games ago. If I’ve learned anything from Rob Ford, you apologize and move on without actually changing anything, no matter how big the mistake.)
Let that sink in. Remind yourself that they’ve only played 21 games in the season, which means almost 70% of the time Ottawa will allow the first goal. That in itself is pretty disparaging, and also makes for less than entertaining hockey. But doing it 14 times in a row is…wow. Just wow. It’s almost an accomplishment. You’d have to try to do that. You’d think a shot would accidentally go in first at some point.
And for it to not really be the fault of goaltending is what makes this problem particularly infuriating. The team’s penalty kill will be good…until it isn’t anymore. (It’s down to 20th in the league after a short stint of being the best.) Their goaltending will be good overall…but the team will still be scored on in the first couple minutes of a game. The team will dominate the cycle…and then dump the puck back into their own end. Their defensive coverage will go from keyed in to completely out-of-synch in the course of a single shift. It’s absolutely dumbfounding to watch.
I’m not calling for the coach or GM’s head or anything, but you have to think this is either a system problem, or that Murray simply hasn’t given MacLean the horses to run an up-tempo puck possession team. Wiercioch and Cowen clearly haven’t worked out as planned. Karlsson can’t do it all. The team is just constantly pinned in their own end.
In any case, the team’s playoff probability went from about 60% two games ago, thanks in part to Montreal and Detroit also struggling, to 35% now. These things turn around quickly, but as James said in his last JDP: Ottawa is going to want these losses at home to Columbus and Edmonton back in the spring when they’re four points out of a wild card spot and have to play the Blackhawks and the Penguins.
We’re only a quarter of the way into the season, and I feel as if Murray has a move to shake this team up pending, but as has been mentioned on plenty of other blogs, the team is getting above average goaltending and has a good shooting percentage. If either of those stats regress even a little bit, this isn’t going to be a team trying to keep its head above water. It will be a team trying to stay out of the bottom five in a year when it doesn’t even have its first round pick. It’s already 10th last in the league.
It’s not as if Murray doesn’t have a few choices. Michalek and Phillips are on expiring deals (though the latter has a NMC until Jan. 1, after which he can pick 10 teams to which he cannot be traded). Conacher has been disappointing, though if he was traded now it would be selling pretty low on a player who at this time last year was being talked about as a dark horse Calder candidate. And of course we keep hearing about Anderson being on the block, though I can’t imagine anyone giving up what the Sens need for an underperforming goaltender at a time when there are still free agent goalies sitting around playing NHL 14.
All of this to say that the team is damned lucky to be sitting at 8-9-4 through this point of the year. They’re a short winning streak and a moribund Montreal stretch away from being back in the picture. But there’s something really disturbing about that 14 game streak. It says everything you need to know about this year’s Ottawa Senators. If last year they were pesky, this year they’ve become very, very accommodating.