Raise your hand if you thought an Erik Karlsson-less Ottawa Senators team would make it through the first five games of the season without a regulation loss. Not many out there, huh?
Fresh off the franchise’s first-ever sweep of western Canada (the latter two wins coming in especially convincing fashion) the Senators are not only undefeated in regulation, but they also sit in second place in the standings (though it’s still very early on). And the news gets even better for the Senators as Karlsson could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday.
Erik Karlsson has missed the first five games of the season as he recovers from offseason foot surgery. (Amy Irvin-The Hockey Writers)
Though they’ve managed to survive (even thrive) without their best player, offensive catalyst and power-play specialist, it hasn’t always been easy for the Senators. If playing without their captain wasn’t enough, the rest of the Senators’ defence corps couldn’t stay healthy, which led to anger, frustration and confusion on the power play and elsewhere.
Battered Blue Line
The Senators started the season with a sub-optimal six-man unit on the back-end, with Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf looking like the best candidates for the top-two, followed by Fredrik Claesson, Johnny Oduya, Chris Wideman and Mark Borowiecki to round things out. An already difficult situation became even more complicated when Oduya left partway through Game 1.
It was at that point the Senators’ injury woes became comical, as Oduya’s replacement in the lineup, Ben Harpur, left the following game with an injury – a blessing in disguise for Thomas Chabot. Sent to Belleville despite a strong training camp and preseason, the depleted blue line left the Sens no choice but to recall Chabot from the AHL.
In three games during the Senators’ trip to western Canada, he had two points (the first two of his career), including one on the man advantage, and looked comfortable while averaging 13:40 of ice time. Unfortunately for Chabot, Karlsson’s return has made him expendable on a crowded blue line, as he is headed back to Belleville.
The #Sens have sent Thomas Chabot to Belleville and Alex Formenton to the London Knights
In the absence of the abundance of wounded defencemen, the rest of back end has picked up the slack admirably. Claesson is averaging over 21 minutes per game, Wideman leads all Sens defencemen in points with four (including a couple of power-play goals) and Ceci and Phaneuf each have three points while logging the most minutes.
After a somewhat sluggish start to the season in which they lost consecutive winnable games in the shootout – the result of a four-goal effort from Alex Ovechkin in a 5-4 defeat and some post-happy pucks against the Red Wings (the official count was three but unofficially the number got as high as six) – the Sens headed west hoping for some better luck.
Instead, they got more of the same against the Vancouver Canucks – that is, yet another shootout – in the first game of the road trip, but were finally able to break into the win column. Against much more skilled teams in Calgary and Edmonton, however, they laid two beatdowns not even Sens fans could have seen coming.
Dating back to 3rd period in Vancouver, the Sens are on a run of outscoring Western Canadian teams 9-0.
One of the biggest positives to take from their Alberta whippings, aside from the combined 12-1 margin of victory, was the power play that had put on paltry performances through the first three games. After starting the year a woeful 0-for-16 with the man advantage – no doubt a result of Karlsson’s absence – the Senators went five for their next 12 opportunities.
Leading the way offensively on the trip was Kyle Turris, who racked up two goals and seven points, as well as Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Zack Smith, who each amassed four points (Hoffman’s coming on the strength of three goals). Overall, the Senators had seven different goal scorers and 16 players who registered at least a point on the trip.
Sports are nothing if not a numbers game, so let’s look at some of the most notable, interesting and surprising numbers through the Senators’ opening five games (keep in mind, this is a very small sample size). As mentioned, the Sens have eight points, which puts them second in the league, just one behind the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kyle Turris leads the Senators in points with seven in five games. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
On special teams, an area that was something of a constant struggle in 2016-17, they have shown some improvement. They’re operating at 17.8 percent on the power play (up 0.8 percentage points from last season) and are the only team still perfect on the penalty kill, converting on all 15 of their shorthanded chances.
The Senators have also been one of the best teams at both ends of the ice: They’re averaging 3.8 goals per game which ranks seventh overall – and a far cry from last season’s team that struggled to score – but perhaps more impressive is they have the best goals-against-per-game at 1.60.
If shots are more your style, the Sens are averaging 34.2 per game to just 29.4 against, though their Corsi-for percentage at five-on-five is a league-worst 42.06 (according to Corsica.hockey). But the most important stat anyone cares about is this: zero regulation losses in five games.