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Senators lose ugly to the Panthers, drop below .500

November 28, 2023, 7:15 PM ET [120 Comments]
Sens Writer
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By Ken Hawkins (a.k.a. khawk)

The Senators played one of their least impressive games in recent memory last night vs. Florida, in a game that deteriorated into a Dave Allison-style alley brawl. The tone was set right from the first puck drop, with FLA scoring a PP goal in the first 90 seconds. After that a failed goal challenge in the 2nd period led to a demoralizing 3-0 deficit from which the team never recovered. A feisty end to the 2nd period led to a penalty-filled 3rd period that saw 150 PIM issued, and 12 different players receive 10 minute misconducts. The final score barely mattered at that point, with both benches struggling just to run out the game clock.

Florida looked every bit the part of a defending Conference-winning team, and were just bigger, faster, and more purposeful in their game. Ottawa looked every bit the part of an immature young contending team who didn't react well to be embarrassed on home ice. The score was probably more lopsided than the Senators deserved, but regardless they were beaten in virtually every aspect of the game. The loss drops the Senators to 8-9-0, and they'll have 4 of their next 6 games at home to try to get back onto the winning side of the ledger. Beyond that they'll play just 4 of their following 15GP at home, which will be a severe test for a team that has really struggled with consistency.

What now?

This is truly one of those games where all of the players, coaches, and management have to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Regardless of the details and narrative of this individual game, it was yet another example of a disturbing trend where the team is just far too often visibly unprepared to play 60 minutes of NHL hockey. Evidence is also mounting that the lack of a coherent defensive system is ravaging the confidence of this young team. Despite being in the top-quartile of NHL teams in Goals/GP and Shots/GP, they're also in the bottom-quartile for Goals Against/GP and PK%, and Anton Forsberg currently has the worst Sv% of any NHL goaltender that's played a full NHL game in their career.

It had been widely speculated that the first quarter of this season would be a critical litmus test for D.J. Smith to prove his value to the new ownership group. The pressure only mounted with the departure of former GM Pierre Dorion, who had been effusive in his support for D.J. Smith. However, in terms of the on-ice product, we've seen only a very moderate improvement from 6-10-1 (13pts) to 8-9-0 (16pts) from last year's first 17GP... despite significant roster upgrades at virtually every position. Worse yet, the major issues with the team appear to be in terms of defensive structure, consistent effort, and game preparation. Former Senators' coach Jacques Martin was quite well known for saying that playing effective defence could always be taught, which makes the current lack of structure on a team with clear playoff aspirations all the more inexcusable.

Personally, I think the next 5GP will decide the fate of D.J. Smith. That runway of games will afford them a chance to play out the first quarter of the season, complete a run of 5GP in 9 nights, and see how they respond to a more regular high-pace stretch of games with a mix of home/away matchups. However, even if the team's new ownership would prefer to wait for the off-season to make a coaching change, having quality options like Claude Julien and Gerard Gallant potentially available makes it an awfully compelling direction for a persistently underperforming team. It's always easier to change the coach than the players, and this gifted young core deserves a chance to play under the direction of an NHL coach with a more established pedigree and track record of NHL success.

What do you think needs to be done to try to course-correct in Ottawa? Please leave your comments below, and as always thanks for reading!
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