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OTT loses to TOR/CBJ; playoff hope fading quickly

April 3, 2023, 7:02 PM ET [40 Comments]
Sens Writer
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Guest Writer: Ken Hawkins (khawk)

Now that the probability of the Senators making the playoffs is >20x lower than their odds of winning the draft lottery, it’s probably time to get back to “meaningful game” language. It’s certainly disappointing compared to the idea of a wild card playoff run, but it’s also a testament to the reality of how big a step the team has taken this year, and the step that remains to become a playoff team. The expectations for next year are self-evident, and the final games of this season may be quite telling in terms of identifying who will be part of next year’s team, and where roster improvements are needed.

TOR 3 - OTT 0 (Saturday)

This was the game that really let the air out of the balloon. PIT had already lost their game vs. BOS, and the opportunity to gain a clean 2pts on the final wild card position was on the table. And while the Senators came out with a good effort in the first period, they failed to capitalize. From there it was just a matter of time before the combination of a depleted blue line and a lucky bounce changed the whole feeling of the game. There was a decent push-back from OTT in the 3rd period, but it was yet another example of insurmountable 2nd-period errors costing them critical points.

CBJ 4 - OTT 3 (OT) (Sunday)

If the PHI game had been a warning sign that the Senators were still playing down to their opponents and losing focus even when having a 3rd-period lead, the CBJ game cemented it as a major area for improvement with the team’s game preparation. You can certainly look at some of the GA given up by Talbot as a major issue, but they were outscored and outhit in the 2nd half of this game by a draft lottery team. The D-lines may have been depleted, but where were the big-name forwards in the 2nd half of the game? Stutzle has been a star for them all year, but that OT giveaway is the stuff of nightmares. I’m sure he’ll learn from it and move on, but it was definitely the cherry on top of a generally disappointing game.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

“Good” was in short supply over the weekend, but if there’s a silver lining to the team’s play it was on the blue line. With all of Chabot, Hamonic, and Chychrun out with injuries, young D-men like Sanderson, Brannstrom, Kleven, and Bernard-Docker had to step up and play beyond their years. And overall they did an admirable job, allowing just 20 and 22 shots in each game respectively, and giving the team a legitimate chance to win. Sanderson looked the part of a future top-pairing D-man, Brannstrom continued to look more comfortable, and Kleven is already showing that he’s ready for regular NHL work.

“Bad” may be an unfair label given the team’s multiple key injuries, but it’s hard to be pleased with the lack of goals from Tkachuk, Stutzle, Giroux, Pinto, or Batherson since the early 3rd period vs. PHI. That said, a key contributing factor was that TOR/CBJ gave up just 2PP chances each, which is becoming ‘the book’ on how to beat the Senators. They have the 6th-highest PP% in the NHL, lead the league in PP opportunities, and are 2nd in PP goals scored. However, they’re also 26th (?!) in the NHL for 5-on-5 scoring, which is the most extreme PP/ES scoring discrepancy in the league by quite a wide margin.

“Ugly” is reserved here to describe the recent performance of Cam Talbot. It’s possible that he was rushed back from injury, but the result has been him giving up 8 goals in just 37 shots over the past 3 games, which is a 0.784 save%. Mads Sogaard didn’t fare much better against TOR, but at least 2 of those goals resulted from broken plays and unlucky bounces. Talbot was giving up far too many goals on clean shots, including goals late in the 3rd period of both the PHI and CBJ games. And blowing 3rd period leads down the stretch to non-playoff teams is just not why any team invests cap space in a veteran goaltender.

The rest of the season will be quite a difficult gauntlet of CAR-FLA-TB-CAR-BUF, and it seems unlikely that any major names will be returning from injury during that span. So it will become a major evaluation test for the team’s best young prospects, and for the likes of Gauthier, Brown, Gambrell, Holden, and Watson as supporting veteran RFA/UFA. It’s hard to see more than maybe 2 of those players returning, but with cap space at a premium having affordable and effective role players is not to be taken for granted.

Thanks for reading!
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