My how time flies in a short season. Wednesday evening marks the mid-point of the Senators’ campaign, and in six-plus weeks the club’s fans have ridden a roller-coaster of emotions. With apologies to Clint Eastwood, let’s review the Ugly, Bad and Good.
It starts and ends with Erik Karlsson’s devastating Achilles injury. The 22-year-old was in Norris Trophy form when he was felled by a swoop of Matt Cooke’s skate. Karlsson is one of the league’s few players who has an innate ability to control the flow of a game. His six goals, not coincidentally, still lead the club.
At first, the Senators were able to withstand the loss of No. 1 centre Jason Spezza and others. However, cracks have become apparent in the nine games Karlsson has missed. The once-vaunted power play has been punchless, going 4-for-28, dropping 10 notches in NHL rankings to 18.
Goal-scoring is at an all-time low. The Senators are averaging 2.13 goals per game, the worst mark in team history. Kyle Turris has not found the net in 19 games and Zack Smith has yet to score. Remarkably, Jim O’Brien leads all Senators forwards with five goals.
Another sore point is an inability to win on the road. The club has won only three of 11 in enemy territory. Their poor record can be attributed directly to scoring first in only one of these games.
With all the bad, one may get the impression that the Senators are a disaster. But that’s far from the truth. They are holding their own in the Eastern Conference, playing at a .609 clip, an increase of .048 over last season.
Coaches say that a team’s best penalty killer is its goaltender. That being said, the league’s second-ranked penalty kill is led by netminder Craig Anderson. The Vezina candidate tops the NHL with a .952 save percentage while possessing a minuscule 1.49 goals-against average. With Anderson nursing an ankle sprain of late, Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner have been stellar.
The Senators are hoping this week’s return by Milan Michalek may help them cure their scoring woes. Until then, the club will have to rely on their goalies to continue providing award-winning performances.