Senators head to Sweden hoping to regain their winning form
Written By: Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)
The Senators will play a pair of games vs. DET/MIN later this week in Sweden as part of the NHL Global Series. These games are always polarizing to the fan bases involved because of their impact on the momentum/flow of the regular season, but it would be tough to argue that a change of pace might not be to the Senators' advantage given their difficult start to the season. Regardless, this will be an especially meaningful experience for Swedish-born Erik Brannstrom and Anton Forsberg, and the team showed a touch of class by calling up Jacob Larsson from the AHL to make the trip as the team’s #7D. Daniel Alfredsson will also serve as a team ambassador, and no doubt feature prominently in the team’s visit to Sweden.
However, the Senators can ill-afford to view their time in Europe as anything but a golden opportunity to make up 4 critical points in the standings. Since the firing of GM Pierre Dorion, the team has gone just 2-3-0 and find themselves in last place in the Atlantic Division. It’s worth noting that this 5-game stretch saw them up against several of the league’s top teams, and they have 2GP in hand on several other teams in the division, but they need to start finding ways to make some of these losses into 3-point games. In terms of goals/GP, goal differential, and regulation wins, they’re 1st, 2nd, and 4th in the division respectively… but all 7 of their losses have come in regulation. Good teams know how to manufacture points in the regular season, and the Senators have to start making it harder for opponents to come away with a clean 2pts.
To that point, DJ Smith continues to mix things up with his ES forward line combinations, not only with the separation of Tkachuk & Stutzle, but also now the separation of Norris & Batherson. Given the team's current top-5 standing in terms of goal production, it's no longer a matter of trying to generate ES offense as it a matter of limiting ES goals against. The following are the most recently updated lines that we're likely to see in Sweden:
Personally, I think you’ll see Chartier playing on the 3rd line more than Jarventie, especially given that he’s now taken >100 faceoffs this year, and is winning at a rate of 53.0%. But what’s really interesting is the extent to which these line combinations reflect the relative effectiveness of these players in terms of ES scoring. Case in point, if you show the (# ES Pts/# Total Pts) for each player in those top-3 scoring lines, you get:
Joseph (12/12)-Stutzle (13/17)-Giroux (11/15)
Tkachuk (8/12)-Norris (2/7)-Tarasenko (8/11)
Kubalik (3/5)-Jarventie (1/1)-Batherson (5/8)
To give a relative sense of how productive the players on that top line are at ES, Stutzle is currently tied for 5th in the NHL with the likes of MacKinnon/Pettersson, Joseph is tied for 12th in the NHL with the likes of Pastrnak/Crosby, and Giroux is tied for 29th in the NHL with the likes of Marner/Point. Not to mention that in all 3 cases, they’ve played fewer games than virtually every one of the players they’re tied with. The most surprising name is clearly Mathieu Joseph, whose speed and aggressive forecheck has become an invaluable addition to any line he plays on. Equally notable is the low ES production for both Norris/Batherson, who also lead the team with a -5 ranking. Their separation is perhaps a recognition on the part of the coaching staff that whatever PP chemistry they may have is not translating well to their ES performance.
Next up for the Senators will be on Thursday vs. Detroit in a rematch from a heated game earlier in the season where the Red Wings put on a PP clinic, and played a textbook road game. That game saw Senators' G Joonas Korpisalo give up 5 goals on just 23 shots, so don’t be surprised if Anton Forsberg gets the start to change up the look they’re giving the Red Wings in goal. Either way, it's another important divisional game for the Senators, and represents a tremendous opportunity to deal themselves back into the mix in a very tough Atlantic Division.
What do you think about the team's upcoming games in Sweden? Please feel free to make comments below, and thanks as always for reading!