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Holiday "Fun" With Senators' Numbers

December 14, 2023, 7:12 PM ET [79 Comments]
Sens Writer
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Written by Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)

We're now halfway through December, and it's hard not to feel like the Ottawa Senators' season has fallen into the same old mediocre rut of Christmas' Past. Their current 11-12-0 record is marginally better than the 9-13-1 record from last season, but it's nowhere close to the level of improvement that was generally expected. Plus, the first quarter of the season was supposed to carry the promise of a much better start resulting from a large number of home games, yet they've emerged with a sub-.500 record on home ice. The question now is whether making the playoffs would require a feasible level of improvement, or a flat-out Christmas miracle.

Current Status

So where are the Senators at? Given their low #GP it's maybe more helpful to break the Eastern Conference down into quartiles, based on their projected point totals over a full 82GP. For reference, the methodology being used here is just a crude projection based on the team's current standings (PTS/GP*82). The benefit of this approach is that it also defines the playoff threshold in the Eastern Conference right now as 97pts.

1Q - BOS, NYR, TOR, FLA (123Pts-105Pts)
2Q- WSH, NYI, DET, PHI (102Pts-97Pts)
3Q- NJD, CAR, TBL, PIT (91Pts-82Pts)
4Q- MTL, OTT, BUF, CBJ (79Pts-63Pts)

The top-quartile group of teams look very much as many had predicted, but the next two quartiles are very interesting. In many ways, the 3Q teams look far more like a group of expected playoff teams, while the 2Q teams might have been limited to possible wild card contender status. Despite the many games in-hand, OTT falls into the 4Q group - though it should be noted that they're relatively close to being in the low-3Q standing. The silver lining here is the potential for regression among the 2Q teams, where there are 2-3 teams that could very reasonably end up on the wrong side of the playoff line when the dust settles. However, OTT now finds themselves at the back of a pack of at least 6 teams with playoff ambitions, who will all be trying to move up in the standings.

The Road Ahead

Just how big is the playoff mountain for the Senators? Setting aside for a minute the number of teams that are ahead of them in the current standings, we can use a similar methodology to the one used to project the standings to estimate the level of play that would be required to achieve the projected 97pts by season's end. Once again, we'll assume that the Senators effectively control their own destiny to the extent that if they achieve the given #pts they will have effectively passed as many teams as required to earn a wild card spot.

First 23GP - 22pts, 0.957pts/GP, 78pts pace
Next 59GP - 75pts, 1.271pts/GP, 104pts pace

Now, if there's good news there (which is definitely an "If"), it's that a 104pts pace isn't really all that much different than the estimated 97pts pace that will be required to claim the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Basically, they need to start playing like a playoff team in order to be a playoff team. The undeniable bad news, of course, is that the 104pts pace is a full 33% improvement over the Senators' current performance, plus they'll have a lower % of home games than any other team in the NHL over the remainder of the season. Translating those values back into a crude win/loss proportion, they'll need to go 37-21-1 or some proportional variant of that in order to make the playoffs.

Have the Senators ever played at a pace like that in recent memory? Not over a 59 game stretch... but if there's a faint glimmer of hope, it's that between Nov. 25th and Mar. 9th of last season, the Senators went on a 45GP stretch where they improved their record from 6-12-1 to 33-27-4, and went 27-15-3 which translates to 1.267pts/GP. Given the analysis shown earlier, this would be pretty much exactly the winning rate needed of them over the remainder of the season in order to make the playoffs. Plus, if you look at some of the team's aggregate statistics like goals/shots for and against, they're virtually identical to TOR... which suggests they're playing better than their record suggests. So we're not quite at the point where we can close the book on the team's playoff hopes. But they've certainly not done themselves any favours, and have painted themselves into a corner where nothing short of their absolute best effort will get the job done.

What are your thoughts about the Senators playoff chances? Please make your comments below, and as always thanks for reading!
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