Hand Guy Boucher the Jack Adams Award. Okay that might be a stretch, but the Ottawa Senators are playing better than most people predicted, and that’s worth talking about. Currently sitting second in the Atlantic division, the Montreal Canadiens are just one point clear at the top, but have also played one extra game.
If the playoffs started today (drink!), the Senators would meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. I’m too busy riding the Minnesota Wild bandwagon to throw my weight behind Ottawa, but they have a good chance of being the last Canadian team standing in the playoffs.
Boucher himself was only hired by the Senators at the end of last season, but (so far) has done a spectacular job with a team that can best be described as ‘meh’ and at worst as ‘scumbaggiest’. Last season Ottawa finished three places clear of a wildcard spot.
Where has this resurgence sprung from? The Senators aimed high during the offseason and made some key mid-season tweaks. Tom Pyatt and Dion Phaneuf were brought in, as was Derick Brassard and former Habs goalie Mike Condon. In the trade market, Tommy Wingels and Viktor Stalberg joined the team, alongside Alexandre Burrows, a more questionable acquisition.
For team with a winning record (41-24-8), they aren’t exactly bringing in great numbers for a team with Cup ambitions; Ottawa’s 5 vs 5 Corsi percentage is just 48.13%. The Sens are scoring just 2.58 goals per games, 10th worst in the league. Fortunately, the blueline is holding strong, and just eight teams have tighter defenses. If Boucher’s team can progress, it’ll be on the back of a strong defense.
Mike Hoffman is on fire, as is Kyle Turris. Mark Stone hasn’t played a game since March 9th, but will likely be back by the weekend assuming has lower body injury doesn’t cause him any more issues. What the Senators also have is good roster depth and each line is capable of producing. Right now three of the four offensive lines have a positive corsi (5 vs 5) player. By spreading out the shooters, Boucher is able to get the best from his forwards.
How long this ride can last is up for debate though. Despite beating current Stanley Cup champs Pittsburgh, the Sens have lost key divisional games recently and still have games against Montreal, Boston and Detroit (who can steal points) as well as the Minnesota Wild and both New York teams. Ottawa would have to be incredibly unfortunate to drop out of the playoffs completely, but a change in final position could bring a tougher opponent than Toronto.