Party like its 2003, Alfie

This may come as a shock to people who paid attention to pre-season expectations or have any concept of forecasting, but the Ottawa Senators are doing really well right now. Like, really well.

Coming into the 2011-12 campaign, Ottawa was pretty much a unanimous choice to be fighting it out for the rights to draft Nail Yakupov with their national rivals from Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers. So far only half of that has come true and it has nothing to do with the team in Ontario.

The Senators are a curious case for a multitude of reasons. Not only are they on pace for a 100 point season – which, by the way, THEY ARE given that they’ve won 54% of their games which equals 45 wins over the course of a season and gotten OT/shootout points in 13% of their games which is 11 over 82 which means 101 points with a 45-26-11 record – they are doing it in no specific way at all.

Typically speaking when we talk about a team we highlight the things they do well or the things they are horrendous at. The Sens totally defy this logic. On one hand they are fantastic at scoring goals, averaging 3.06 a game (sixth highest total in the league). On the other, they are brutal at preventing them from being scored, averaging 3.13 against a game (fourth most in the league). They’re the only team in the NHL’s top 10 for points (they are seventh) with a negative for/against average. New Jersey is the next closest at the 11 spot.

Special teams are nothing to write home about either given how distinctly average they are. They are square in the middle of the league at 15 with a power play percentage of 17.9. They’re worse on the penalty kill with a kill percentage of 80.8% which puts them 23rd in the NHL. Not only that, but only Toronto has given up more power play goals against. Let’s not even get started with the discipline of the team seeing as how only Philadelphia has taken more penalties.

Does this have any tangible bearing on the team’s record? Nope.

The Sens are eighth in the NHL for points and they are streaking right now with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten. Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson are having insane years offensively, and the rest of the team is rallying around their production. Craig Anderson is third in the NHL in wins despite boasting a lacklustre GAA and save percentage – did I mention he’s given up the second most goals while stopping the most shots?

Quite frankly, I don’t entirely get it. The Sens, on paper, are not great and the stats verify this. That being said, they still find a way. They play with great chemistry which has been largely built by their development system in place at Binghamton where the AHL Senators took home a Calder Cup in 2011. Many players on this current Sens squad played on identical lines in the A and their on-ice chemistry shows. Paul MacLean seems to have asserted himself well as an NHL head coach, and as far as assistants go you can’t do much better than Dave Cameron, Mark Reeds and Luke Richardson. Many people forget that Cameron and Reeds coached against one another in the OHL championships and Memorial Cup last season. They are both NHL calibre head coaches. They are getting the most out of this roster right now and if the season ended tomorrow you could air mail MacLean his Jack Adams trophy.

At the end of the day, there is no tangible reason WHY the Sens just find a way to win, they just do. You know how some people are in those relationships where you think “that shouldn’t work, but it just does”? It looks like that’ll be Ottawa’s bond with wins for the next little while. Might as well enjoy them while they’re here.

Comments (15)

  1. fuckin’ right… i blame (salute) maclean. I think that if Ottawa keeps it up and makes it into the playoffs as a 5-7 seed, he should get the Jack Adams. DONE. BOOK IT. I’M DRUNK.

  2. Well a little bit of press finally for these very deserving dudes – even if this article really doesn’t paint a very comprehensive picture. This team is RELENTLESS (yes caps necessary),and I am sure there is no team more frustrating to play against. There is very little room for the opponents bringing the puck up the ice, they force turnovers and then are damn hard to take the puck from. Karlsson is a (v. near) future SUPERSTAR, Spezza should be a Hart finalist, and really there are no glaring weak spots on any line or D-pairing. They just have a hard time clearing the front of the net – but are getting better at it, and Anderson is finally starting to play like we saw him capable of last year after being traded to OTT. Watch out, these guys could make a big 2nd season run.

    • Not to mention Alfie is playing like it’s the stanley cup year all over again, and the guy hasn’t missed a shootout attempt!

  3. Good article, just have one comment. The Senators havent defied numerical logic by winning despite their numbers- they have just gotten MUCH better in a short time and the awful first half is still reflected in the teams (and Anderson’s) stats. At one point their GF/GA differential was nearly -30, now its even. Anderson had a save percentage of somewhere around .875, which he has improved to .907. Why have they improved so much? Effort, phenomenal coaching and veteran leadership.

    • Good points. They also won a *lot* of one goal games and shootouts and come out on top in games that could go either way.

  4. How about the fact that they are Clutch, scoring more 3rd period goals than any other team, and also the best record for coming back after starting the 3rd behind. If you’re talking stats, how do you not mention these?

  5. @Author, have you been watching all the games? Cause that’s how… And they don’t have a negative goals for/against, its 500 right now. As much as I agree that it’s surprising they are where they are, it’s also very explainable.

    Fantastic Goal tending
    Scoring depth (3 great lines)
    Young and big team with lots of grit (Neal, Carkner, Konopka, Smith)
    Talented offensive defense with amazing transition game
    Not to mention they don’t give up on a single game, which makes it difficult for teams that try to defend 1-2 goal leads (which is basically every team whether they mean to or not).

    Most of all they obviously love playing together, there is no animosity on that team, and they have fantastic leader ship, from the Coaching staff to the captain and the “to be” captain Jason Spezza.

    Was that so hard to explain?

    • 1) Their goal differential was negative when this was written, and was not at the time of your comment.

      2) It appears that we have very different perceptions of how talented they are. I’ve watched a fair amount of Senators hockey this year and they are not very talented, this is just a coaching staff that is getting the most out of what they have. You use the terms “fantastic” “amazing” and “great” much more willingly than I ever would.

      • 1) I was going based of the day it was posted.

        2) In terms of using the words Fantastic and Amazing, I’m not sure what else you can call the way Greg Anderson has been playing, there is no question he has been one of if not the top goaltender in the last month.
        When it comes to Amazing, what else would you call Karlsson’s ability go from one end of the ice to the other with speed and ability to create dangerous offensive chances. Name another defenseman in the league who’s better at it?

        I’m not saying this team is going to win the cup, but don’t underplay what the players have been accomplishing. We surely do have issues in the defense department, but I’ve seen it getting progressively better each game, Just look where we were to start off the season. Kuba especially has improved exponentially.

        It’s hard to take anything you say with a grain of salt when you start spouting off statistics as a main selling point for your argument.

        “Quite frankly, I don’t entirely get it. The Sens, on paper, are not great and the stats verify this.”

        Look at their stats to start the year, then look at them in the last 2 months, that’s what happens when a team grows together and learns to win.

        Just look at the sens a few years ago when they went to the cup finals, they had a horrible first half of the year, and were the best team in the league the rest of the way.

        My final thoughts, The sens are doing great, they will most likely have their ups and down, and I’m sure Anderson will have a bad game here or there, but I for one am excited at where this team is heading, especially with the talented prospects we have coming up.

        • The difference between the Cup Sens and the 2011-12 Sens is that the team that made the run was talented enough to back up their performance. This year’s team is playing well above its head. Anderson is having a fantastic January, yes, but he’s poised for a regress back to his career averages and the number of games he’s playing could easily wear him down.

          For an example of the latter issue see: Miller, Ryan (2009-10).

          As far as the other individual performances, Karlsson is a nice piece, sure. Would I take him over Drew Doughty? Absolutely not. He goes coast-to-coast well but he can barely play a lick in his own end. Doughty is miles ahead in both zones. Kuba is in a contract year so his improvement isn’t surprising. He was a very good defenceman prior to joining the Sens, he just strikes me as a guy who lost his edge once he got paid.

          While the team is playing well now they’re poised to falter, much like Minnesota has in the last month under Yeo. Chemistry or no chemistry, talent prevails 9/10 times. MacLean is doing a phenomenal job, but ultimately lacks the pieces to do anything of real substance here for the time being.

          • Chris, others have already accurately pointed out that one must break a season into halves or quarters to really reconcile team or individual stats to conference positions.

            Since every team in hockey from the junior and college ranks up to the NHL packages its statistical results in 5, 10 and 20 game segments to assess performance vs. milestones, perhaps you could explain why so few hockey writers utilize parallel strategy to opine on relative trends in the sport?

            But to say Karlsson “can’t play a lick in his own end” is very dangerous hyperbole on your part. It only proves you really haven’t really been watching the Sens very closely throughout the first HALF of this season, since those early highlight reels featured every imaginable breakdown in the Ottawa end of the rink.

            To be fair, you have 29 other teams you must cover. Thankfully, I don’t.

            Like your opinion of Karlsson, mine of Doughty is based primarily on watching Kings’ highlight packages and following hockey media coast-to-coast, 24/7. Occasionally, I get to watch the odd LA game or two, beginning to end.

            So please, consider an alternate viewpoint.

            Re: Karlsson:

            1. His improvement in defensive position, body angle and stick position is exponential since the beginning of the season. Ask Giroux and Jagr how easy they found him to deal with in his own end in their recent 2-game home-and-home. Ask 6’7″ 244-lb Bryan Boyle how it was that Karlsson managed to pick his Ranger pocket twice on the wall to break up successive rushes midway in another game the Senators really shouldn’t have won 3-zip. He made the first play by using position and leverage to knock Boyle right on his prodigious backside and on the next, when Boyle leaned in to flatten Karlsson, the latter reached in with a quick stick and was skating north from the blue line by the time Boyle figured out he was no longer on the attack. And just ask opponents how much they like him in their end of the rink. (By the way, I don’t think all one million all-star votes cast for the kid originated in the Ottawa Valley. However, I digress.)

            2. In the most recent quarter-season, most of the time #65 is in his own end the puck mysteriously ends up on his stick and is very quickly passed or skated into the attack zone – hence his outrageous (but consistent) assist total. I’d like to hear your case as to why Drew is better than Erik in the exit/transition phase of the game. He certainly isn’t quite as quick or creative as Erik in either direction, though I’ll grant you he’s more rugged and predictable.

            RE: Doughty:

            1. Remind me how well he was playing early this season in any part of the rink (while Karlsson and Co. were admittedly so scary in his own end and). For good measure, don’t forget to ask ex-coach Terry Murray for a comment. Just saying, I find your blithe choice of Doughty for comparison rather curious.

            I love Drew Doughty, but my guess is that it’s no forgone conclusion right now that the majority of NHL GM’s and pro scouting staffs would choose Doughty over Karlsson for whom to build a team around in the new NHL. Sure, they may be a conference and almost a continent apart, but I have no doubt that the two will be very close neighbors in tax bracket by sometime this summer. And it just might prove to be the best investment Eugene Melnyck ever made, perhaps even a better ROI than Biovail or Alfie’s stipend.

            In the meantime, I guess we’ll both have to stay up late next Monday night and watch them compete head-to-head.

            And perhaps a poll of 30 GM’s to find out who would choose whom might just be worth a bit more of your professional time.

  6. Loving the run so far. Had zero expectations for them this season, so everything positive is a bonus really.

    The coaching is def. the first, second and third reasons for their play. Guys are having fun playing again and it shows in their effort.

    Not a great team on paper, and will almost certainly get crushed if they make it to the playoffs, but until that point, i’m just going to sit back and enjoy it!

  7. I’m a big Sens fan and I agree generally with the author here. I’m happy, like many other Sens fans, that their success is being recognized, but there’s no reason to go overboard (this is Ottawa, afterall). The Sens have won more than their fair share of 3rd periods, thanks in part to great coaching and tremendous effort. I do believe this will regress though. Auld is not a strong back-up, and Anderson will almost certainly reach his personal record for games played in a season, or get injured trying. I see the Sens as a middling team right now, albeit with a good future. Whatever success they get this season (provided they make the playoffs, or else what was the point..?) is a bonus

  8. I firmly beleive that the MAC attack has definitely made an impact. Coaching is KEY. He brings that knowledge from the Detroit system. One thing I always noticed about Detroit is the players position on the ice. They always seemed to be in the right place at the right time…I wished at the time that Ottawa had that same positioning. I think this is a very good reason why they are winning games, but like the coach said today, they are far from where they want to be.

    They cannot take any game lightly, and come hard, skate fast and play defence every night. They have a huge road trip that can very well be this teams demise or vice versa.

  9. This story sounds awful;y familiar to the way people were talking about the Wild. Finding ways to win…stats suggest that the team isn’t actually that good…coach is getting the most of the system. Maybe it won’t turn out the same way, but it makes me wary that the team may be due for a hard regression.

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