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MHH Previews the Lesser 29: Ottawa

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Welcome to a new installment where we will preview each of the other NHL teams who simply make up the bulk of the league the Avalanche play in. Today, we preview the Ottawa Senators.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Their head coach: Guy Boucher. This is the one thing that comes to mind when I hear his name, for better or worse. It's especially better since he coaches a Canadian team. I have nothing else to say about Coach Boucher.


Their captain: Erik Karlsson. He is a very good player. He won the Norris Trophy in 2012 and 2015, has played all 82 regular season games each of the last three seasons, and has accumulated 74, 66, and 82 points during that span. That is not bad! Having a defenseman who can score and defend (we at MHH have NEVER had any conversations about this subject) is quite nice. He has been well worth his first round selection from 2008, and at 26, still has a lot of hockey left to play.


Their 15-16 season: Disappointing, I suppose. They qualified for the 2015 playoffs when they went on a torrid run that was so hot it made a goaltender with a McDonald's-themed nickname an internet sensation. The Senators were lurking around playoff contention when the halfway point in the season came around, but they could never get much going late and tallied 85 points, missing the Red Wings who got the last guaranteed spot in the Atlantic by 8, as the winged wheel got 93.


How did they do against the Avs? Frankly the Senators are the first team I've had to go back and look at their results versus Colorado because I did not remember those games. I know I watched them, but I had no recollection. Ottawa pummeled Colorado in the Pepsi Center game, 5-3. That wasn't as close as the score indicated, even though the Avs turned what had been a 4-1 deficit into a 4-3 hole in the 3rd. It never felt like a game the Avalanche were going to win. The Avs won at Canadian Tire Centre 4-3, and I now remember that was a game that could have easily been another blown third period lead for the Avs, as they were up 3-0 at one point.


When do they play the Avs this season? At Ottawa on March 2nd and in Denver on March 11th.


Will they be good? If their goaltending is good, yes. If their goaltending is bad, no. There's more on the Sens' goalie situation in this article's 3 Questions. I like what they have up front though. You can tell I like Erik Karlsson a lot. Bobby Ryan does not suck. Mark Stone is better than decent. Kyle Turris is more skilled at hockey than I am. They also have Derick Brassard now, and they got Dion Phaneuf at the trade deadline. It's a likable team and fairly solid. They won't win the Stanley Cup or anything, but they've got playoff contention. Will they make it there? I don't know. The season hasn't started yet.


3 Questions with their SB Nation blog, Silver Seven:


-I feel like the Senators’ postseason hopes always hinge on goaltending. What’s the situation in the crease look like going into this season? The situation in the crease is more than a little sketchy. Craig Anderson is still playing well, but he's 35. He was the 5th-oldest goalie to play last season, and two of those names were Niklas Backstrom and Michael Leighton. At any point his ability could drop off a cliff. Andrew Hammond is fine as an NHL backup, but he can't handle more than probably 30 games per season. An injury to either one would be devastating. Matt O'Connor was a big name college signing last year, but he really struggled in his first year of pro hockey. Chris Driedger has looked adequate in the AHL, but he has yet to be trusted with his first NHL start, even though Hammond missed a lot of time last year with injury. The fact that Marcus Högberg, a prospect in the SHL who has yet to even play an NHL exhibition game, gets talked about regularly on our site tells you how confident we are in the Sens' goaltending future.

So in short, the Sens are basically Anderson or bust this season. Here's hoping he can put up yet another age-defying season.


-Based on how last season went, would you be willing to call the Sens’ hot run at the end of 2015 leading them to the playoffs a fluke? Why or why not? I don't think it was a fluke, mainly because the possession numbers were there down the stretch. I think the main reasons the Sens made the playoffs in 2015 was that Dave Cameron lucked into injuries to Chris Neil and Chris Phillips, and a suspension to Jared Cowen. He was forced into playing his optimal lineup.

Other things obviously helped too. An overage rookie goalie playing out of his mind for 20 games was a huge help. Patrick Wiercioch playing the best hockey of his life (and being trusted to do so for once) was helpful. Erik Condra and Jean-Gabriel Pageau forging incredible chemistry was very valuable.

This season, Dave Cameron really got to flex his coaching muscle, and it was... perplexing. Putting Mark Borowiecki on the top line late in the third period of a tie game didn't make sense to most people. The team's utter lack of defensive structure caught up to them. Even playing Bobby Ryan with Scott Gomez down the stretch screamed of a coach who was in way over his head. So I think it was a bit of a fluke the Sens made it in 2015, but the fluke wasn't lack of talent. It was that everything fell into place so that coaching deficiencies weren't as obvious.

-Do you think Ottawa’s a playoff team this year? It's hard to say. One thing I've noticed from running a similar series is that every team in the Atlantic Division says the same thing: we're in a weak division. I fully expect Tampa and Florida to make the playoffs, and then who knows? There are bad teams on the upswing like Toronto and Buffalo, good teams on the downswing like Boston and Detroit, the Habs will probably make it if their goalie is healthy, and then Ottawa is a weird tweener with some young talent and the game's best defenceman and now Phaneuf and Brassard. Ottawa will be in the playoff race most of the year, but it could go either way at the end. As a fan of the team, I say yes. As long as the key contributors stay healthy.

Thanks to Ross A. for taking the time to answer!