After a few years where the Senators were at the top of the Eastern Conference (and were never able to quite break through) the Sens have struggled lately with some talented players, but ultimately falling short of making any real noise in the Eastern Conference. It’s no doubt heart-breaking for residents of Ottawa, where they enjoy their hockey, but unfortunately it looks like they may be in for another relatively disappointing season. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not a bad team, but I don’t think they’ve got what it takes to get over the hump against the elite squads in the league.
Losing Anton Volchenkov is going to hurt. There’s no question his physical, shot-blocking play was a strong contributor to the ability of Ottawa to shut down some of the more potent offenses in the East. Despite the loss of his ability, the Senators remain a fairly strong team, albeit one with some questions. Spezza, Alfredsson, Alexei Kovalev and others will provide some offensive punch, but they are a bit thin on the back end. In net there are questions as well, as Leclaire and Elliott will battle for the #1 job. Neither are sure-fire hits, but both are solid tenders.
Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar
When Jason Spezza came into the league everyone thought he was going to break things wide open. He hasn’t. He’s been a solid, talented, even potentially elite-level talent on a moderately good team for most of the time he’s spent in the league. He’s likely going to continue that trajectory, but he’ll need to increase his 57 points from last season if the Senators want any chance of making noise in the East. Behind Spezza, the Senators boast aging veterans Alexei Kovalev and Daniel Alfredsson, two players with significant scoring pedigree, who will need to recapture past glory this season.
The loss of Volchenkov will hurt. Sergei Gonchar can eat up minutes with the best of them, and should provide some decent fire power from the back end, not to mention a skilled powerplay quarterback, but he’s not going to be quite the shut down player the team needs. In the East, against elite offensive talents like Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin and others, it would be a good addition to bring in a shut down defenseman of Volchenkov’s ability. Behind the already shaky defense is a goaltending tandem consisting of Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott. Neither are world-beaters, and with this defense, they may have to be. That said, either player could raise his game to the next level. If they do, the Senators could be dangerous.
We all know the Senators are going to be better than the Maple Leafs. That said, I think their shaky defense will end up being the death of them. They lack an elite keeper like Buffalo, and though they have potential on offense, I don’t think it’ll be enough to overcome the weakness on defense. Especially the lack of a true shut down defenseman, it could get ugly in Ottawa this winter. An injury up front would all but destroy any chance of the playoffs, and although sneaking in isn’t out of the question, it’ll require the pieces to come together in just the right way.