Hello, and welcome back to Hockey.
Remember Game 1 of the season? We were riding high! The Sens came into their first game in over 300 days and thoroughly dominated a heavily favoured Leafs team in the season opener. Thomas Chabot was on the ice for all five Senators goals (including scoring a beauty on the powerplay), Matthews and Thornton were on for three goals against, and I must admit: I got sucked in to the “Are the Sens TOO good?” discourse very fast. But could you blame me? Ottawa looked great against a Toronto team who are the prohibitive favourites in a Canadian Division that’s filled with more tomato cans than an Italian grocer. I declared then and there that if the Senators opened their season with two straight wins over Toronto, there was no reason they couldn’t be expected to make the playoffs. Who could stop them?
Well, in the ensuing five games, we have received the answer: the thing that could stop the Ottawa Senators is themselves. It has been a masterclass in Losing Hockey. We have seen defensive lapses, giveaways, blown leads, blowouts, bad penalties, bad skating, bad goaltending, bad coaching, which has resulted in a textbook case of Bad Team. It’s almost like most of these guys haven’t played consistently in nearly a year! Also, it’s a very short season so there’s very little time to make up ground in an ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICAL situation where you want the Senators to make the playoffs this year.
Ottawa suffering from yet another case of Bad Team was not unpredictable to anyone who had even a cursory interest in season projections. Not only that, but my colleague Varada said earlier today that the team hasn’t even been as bad as you think! Despite this, there are Sens fans and Sens adjacent individuals, and even Sens themselves, who are Mad Online at a level that hasn’t been seen in years. Players are mad, Blogs are mad, the Reddits are mad, the Twitters are mad, and the coach is mad. It’s been six games! What’s going on here? Haven’t any of you seen a bad team go on a five game losing streak before? Well, don’t worry; I’m here to explain everything. Simply lie down on my couch, and we can begin the session.
(Some of) The Sens Are Actually Good. If admission was a thing being charged in these troubled times, watching Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot alone would be worth the price of it. Nick Paul has been a revelation in his 3rd line checking role so far, even if he is riding a bit of a shooting percentage heater at the moment. Derek Stepan has been perfectly adequate in his role as a steady 2nd line centre and Team Dad. Even the frequently maligned Nikita Zaitsev has gone to The Mark Borowiecki School of Getting Surprisingly Nice With It and has been surprisingly nice with it this season. This is clearly not the same Senators team as last year; this Senators team can put together good shifts against anyone. The problem is that this only makes it more obvious that…
(Most of) The Sens Are Actually Bad. Look, it’s early, there was no pre-season, and I’m not saying that these guys can’t turn it around, but Cedric Paquette? Bad. Austin Watson? Not good. Braydon Coburn? Trash. Josh Brown? Abysmal. Matt Murray? Hasn’t made a save in four years. Even guys like Mike Reilly and Christian Wolanin, who grade out fairly well in Nerd Stats, have made extremely high-profile errors at extremely obvious times. However, I must admit, I have nearly limitless ire for Josh Brown at this point. Speaking purely in terms of shot metrics, Ottawa is one of the worst teams I’ve ever seen with him on the ice. With him off the ice, the rest of the Senators (even the bad ones!) have been nearly average. Essentially for 17 minutes a night, the Senators punt on generating any offense, and are happy to get eaten up in their own zone, as long as Josh Brown, a guy DJ Smith coached in Junior, is out there. It’s not great to watch, it’s making people like you and me justifiably mad, and it seems like it should be a very fixable problem, except…
Sens Management Actually Gave Up Assets For The Guys You’re Mad At.
The last year has been ugly:— Alexthegoalie (@Alexthegoalie) January 26, 2021
Reilly – 5th rd pick (2021)
J. Brown – 4th rd pick (2020)
Gudbranson – 5th rd pick (2021)
Coburn – Cap relief for Bolts
Paquette – Cap relief for Bolts
Watson – 4th rd pick (2021)
Stepan – 2nd rd pick (2021)
Murray – 2nd rd pick (2020)
Sens fans have seen their fair share of scrubs hanging out in the bottom 8 (or top 8) of the team in their day, but the above tweet makes it clear that what is happening is different from waiting for Cody Ceci to work out. No one made the Senators acquire the guys who are sitting in the “BAD” segment of the graphs on HockeyViz.com; they chose to do it, and at the time they did it, anyone with a subscription to any number of public analytics databases and a decent knowledge of what numbers are bigger than other numbers could have predicted that it was probably a bad idea. I think it’s too early to give up on Murray and Dadonov, and I think Stepan plays pretty well when he’s away from Josh Brown, but there is just no getting around the fact that the Sens front office called their shot with a lot of veteran players this year. Dorion and Co. went out and got “their guys”, and until further notice “their guys” suck. Matt Murray is not helping matters. The next game changing save he makes will be his first. The Senators have given up 3 or more goals in every game so far. It is reasonable to be mad about this. The good news is…
The Sens Are Bad, But So Is Every Canadian Team. Have you felt consistently threatened by the idea of having to play Winnipeg seven more times this year? Did Brandon Sutter’s hat trick fill you with fear and dread? Yeah, me neither. As it stands, the Senators are 3 points back of 4th place Edmonton with a game in hand. There’s no reason the Senators can’t make a little playoff run this season entirely by accident. No reason other than the bad players that the team acquired on purpose, I mean. This is the heart of the matter: No season is a lost season when all you have to do to make the playoffs is finish ahead of three of Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. All it takes is a bit of goaltending, a bottom half of the lineup that won’t get entirely caved in, and a willingness to get out of the way and let Brady and the rest of the Sour Patch Kids cook a bit. Too bad the Sens probably won’t let it happen, but we can always dream. Even now, I feel the winds of change blowing.
Conclusion: What do?
Your feelings are real, and valid. However we’ll have to stop there, because I’m afraid your hour is up. See you next week.