Senators having another surprising season
The Ottawa Senators have managed to surprise fans and critics for a third-straight season.
The 2009-2010 season surprised everyone when the Sens blew up their roster to rebuild and finished in thirteenth-place. Ottawa was expected to finish around the same in 2010-2011, but they managed to squeeze into the playoffs. This season, they have started their season with three consecutive wins.
It's early in the young season, but the Sens remain the only undefeated Eastern Conference team with three or more games played. They will not finish in first place in the East, to be sure, but they should be a playoff team against this season.
The season began with outrageous speculations, as all seasons do. The expectations of the Ottawa were mixed, but it was generally agreed upon they would not be a playoff team this year – with few exceptions, including myself.
I was mocked for my prediction the team would keep up with their results from last season, but they have done my prediction one better so far.
How are the Senators managing to burst out of the gate with such great results, even while losing Jared Cowen an almost-season-ending knee injury? Marc Methot, Craig Anderson and Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson, basically.
Methot has become Karlsson's new D partner, and his defensive play and quick feet have made the two a very strong tandem. I have not seen Methot make a wrong move yet, and he is exactly what the Sens needed to fill in for losing Cowen, and of course replacing Filip Kuba as Karlsson's partner.
Karlsson has begun the season where he left off last year, and has even taken on more responsibility by being used on the penalty kill frequently. Karlsson has also come out of the gate strong offensively, but that should surprise no one.
The third D pairing, featuring young prospect Patrick Wiercioch and veteran-of-almost-every-league André Benoit, has looked solid in the early going. They have not really been exposed much, and are chipping in at both ends of the ice so far.
Turris has been amazing for the Sens. Everyone kept talking about when he would finally break out while he was with Phoenix, and he finally looks like he is ready. This is his first full season with Ottawa, after being acquired midway through the season for David Runblad and a second-round draft pick, and he is certainly fitting the role of second-line centre very well.
The goaltending of Anderson has been nothing short of amazing. He has only allowed two goals in three games, and looks like a beast between the pipes again this season. There was a lot of misguided talk heading into camp amongst critics, and even some fans, saying that Robin Lehner would be the number one goalie coming out of camp.
Lehner's AHL numbers are stellar, and he has done almost everything he can at the AHL level, but Anderson is still the better goalie. I predict Lehner will be the starting goalie in Ottawa in a few short years, but not this season – barring an awful injury.
Rookie Jakob Silfverberg, who run everything you can win last year in Sweden (regular season MVP, playoff MVP and the championship) has looked great in the young season. He's got his first NHL goal, and has looked like a constant threat offensively. His defensive game has been very good, and he frequently make big plays for the team.
The one question mark on the roster is Guillaume Latendresse. He has been decent in the early going, and is definitely back-checking more than I have ever seen him back-check, but he will have to score goals to earn his ice time, or Colin Greening may be moved into his spot.
Greening's current line with Chris Neil and Zack Smith has been exceptional. It's big, mean and provides plenty of energy. They have even chipped in a few goals in the young season. It's no secret that having a great third line is an important part to being a good team, and this line has been dynamite early on.
The fourth line has been quietly effective. Peter Regin, who gave Sens fans so much hope many seasons ago, has basically been injured for two full seasons. He is still considered an important prospect in the organization, but he is in Ottawa at a time that the depth is stellar and will have to earn more ice time. He has looked good early, and will have to prove he still has the offensive upside to be considered for more than just checking duty. Jim O'Brien and Erik Condra are solid depth players and the three have formed a good checking line.
The Sens have not exposed any weaknesses so far, although the true question mark will be if the team can sustain their defensive strength. The forwards on the team are generally great two-way players, and will need to continue working as hard as they have been to aid their defensemen.
Ottawa may not have an area of great strength – with the exception of goaltending if Anderson stays on his game – but they certainly aren't showing any weaknesses at the moment either.
The competition has not been incredible so far and it will be interesting to see how head coach Paul Maclean and the Senators do against stiffer competition.
Ottawa faces the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday in Tampa, before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday at home. Both games will be broadcast on Sportsnet East.