I know I’ve said every week is make-or-break all season long…but this week is make-or-break

Pittsburg on the road. The Blues on the road in the second of back-to-back games. Buffalo at home. Boston on the road. Then the Olympic break.

If everything unfolds the way you’d expect it to, Ottawa could conceivably head into the break 25-24-10. This would drop their playoff odds to low-single-digit probability with only 23 games remaining.

March isn’t going to be much easier; the Senators start the post-break period with a Western Conference road swing—and hey look, TWO afternoon games, where Ottawa has established themselves as a hot bag of diapers—and there are only a few games left against the teams they’re chasing in the standings.

In other words, and in the parlance of talking heads everywhere, Ottawa doesn’t really control their own destiny at this point. I’m reminded of the whole “run the table” moment a few years back; Ottawa needs to be dominant against teams they haven’t traditionally been dominant against, and needs the other teams in the Atlantic to basically have epic collapses.

The Winnipeg Jets are a pretty good cautionary tale about getting one’s hopes up. Since Paul Maurice took over the head coaching job they’re something like 9-2. Their playoff odds are all the way up to 11%.

All of this to say that I’m all for Hail Mary passes if they double as opportunities for player development. Why, for example, would the team continue to turn to Anderson at this point in the season? Why not give Lehner a string of games and see if he can steal one or two of them? The worst that could happen is that you get an extended look at what, exactly, you have on your hands. Especially if you intend to hand him the starting position at this point next year. (Cynical question: are they keeping him out of the crease in order to lessen his bargaining power, as he’s due a new contract in the off season?)

Why not call up a Mike Hoffman and give him more than seven minutes? You can play him where Neil usually plays. Oh, and you can scratch Neil. Just drop him off on the Airport Parkway with a paper bag lunch and thank him for his contributions. If that seems mean, then promote him to Chief Pump Up Artist and put him on staff. Just keep him off the ice. (Yes, I know he had two goals against the Leafs, which brings his numbers up to ‘atrocious.’)

The point being that last year Ottawa had a reputation as a pesky, young team who played every night as if to prove that they belonged in this league. That was no surprise; they were playing for their jobs. In some cases, it worked. (Cough, cough, Colin Greening’s new contract.) We’ve been hearing all week about all of this NHL talent Ottawa has down in Bingo. Let’s see it. What do we have to lose?

Murray said it himself this past weekend. “We are what we are.” And after this week, what Ottawa may be may be is free to experiment. Because the season is looking increasingly cooked.

4 thoughts on “I know I’ve said every week is make-or-break all season long…but this week is make-or-break

  1. OMG, that cynical question scares me. If that really is why they aren’t playing Lehner as much, then I will be ragingly angry D:< I'm not sure I completely agree that we should be playing our young'uns, since playing them in games where we seem to lose when we should be winning is probably detrimental to their development (at least, the development of their confidence??), but I am so on board with starting Lehner. I feel like we're getting to the point where we have to change something just to kickstart the team, especially with so few games left in the season. :<

  2. RE Neil: I agree with you that a lot of the time what he brings does more harm than good to the team. I mean leading a squad that takes WAY too many penalties by nearly 50 minutes is not exactly a badge of honour in my book.
    When Neil is out of the lineup, like we saw recently, we get to see a far more skilled player like Stone or, like you’re saying Mike Hoffman (55 points in 44 games, AHL player of the week, what more must he do?!) take his place. I’ve liked very much what I saw when this happened. Hey we even got to see Spezza get that winger he needs ever so briefly!
    You’re probably joking around with it a bit but where I think you’ve got it wrong is calling Neil’s numbers ‘atrocious.’ 8 goals from a 4th liner at the 50 game mark, particularly a 4th liner on this team, is pretty outstanding. I think where it gets extra frustrating to people like you and me who might not be fans overall, is HOW he’s scoring his goals.
    Off the top of my head, I can recall half of them: Hating the puck into the net to keep them in an afternoon game no one showed up to (naturally) against the Oilers, the tying mark late in the game to pick up a very crucial point against Tampa, two goals against Toronto in an even more important game none of our star players showed up to.
    Something tells me when Neil scores it resonates deeply with Paul MacLean. To put myself in the coach’s shoes Neil is probably a bit of a dream player for him. I think the coach figures here he has a guy that he knows will “put on the work boots” every night and will potentially, and i stress potentially, do something pretty huge offensively with his 11 minutes. If he doesn’t he knows he’ll have a guy who’ll perform his role playing his hardest, hitting, fighting, screening the opposing goaltender, getting in peoples faces after the whistle etc….basically not successful zone exits but stuff coaches care about none the less.
    Again not advocating for it but putting together why Maclean prefers a guy with over 800 games over breaking in another rookie whom he has to shelter (which he certainly feels the need to do considering he sat DaCosta for nearly the entire 3rd last night despite his scoring an amazing goal). What I’m saying is, and you probably didn’t need this pointed out (YOU’RE WELCOME), is that as long as he plays here, Neil is never going to be scratched if healthy…ever. Further, I really don’t think for the rest of the season MacLean, Murray and co. will ever see the season as a ‘time to experiment’ I think they will see themselves as excruciatingly close to the final playoff spot. Anderson has the better record he’ll get more starts, Neil has 8 goals as a fourth liner he’ll always play.

    • Well, my implication isn’t that Neil doesn’t score goals, it’s that Neil causes more goals than he scores. The reason why a player like Neil is so alluring to a GM is precisely because they think, “hey, 10 goals from a 4th liner! That’s pretty good!” but I think his play everywhere else wipes out that upside. If you assume your average 4th liner gets about 4 goals, then Neil has caused more than the 4 extra goals he’s earned looking at penalties taken only, and not even taking possession stats, or WOWY (which shows that he makes everyone around him worse, too) into account. Personally, I don’t care how he scores goals. And I don’t care how many he scores. So long as it’s a net gain. And I just don’t see how he causes more goals for than against. That was a huge goal against Tampa, granted.

      Really, I’m often confused by MacLean. Da Costa scores two goals, is healthy scratched the next game to make room for Kassian, the team loses huge (and Kassian fails to prevent a dirty hit against a skilled player), then Da Costa is back and scores again. MacLean describes Da Costa as “finding his way” in the NHL and barely plays him in the 3rd. I’m not an expert, and maybe there were all sorts of little terrible cues I wasn’t picking up. But I saw Neil and Greening out there a whole lot in the 3rd period, and they had all sorts of giveaways, and a bad Greening line-change led to the OT goal against.

      My point is….I don’t know. I don’t have a point. I guess I’d rather have a bunch of lazy players who kill at possession and put up more points than they cause than hard working guys who can’t string a play together. (Not saying you want that, I just feel like that’s what we have.)

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