Looking back now at the Ottawa Senators’ late season run to secure their spot in the 2015 playoffs, it almost seems improbable if not unbelievable. This season, the Sens have regressed and are producing more realistic results. Goalie Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond’s 20-1-2 record during that stretch now looks even more dubious given his .899 save percentage through 13 games this season.
And winger Mark Stone, whose upstart offensive outburst during his first full NHL campaign (an eye-popping 2.59 even-strength points per 60 minutes) carried the Senators for much of that stretch, has cooled off significantly. (1.60 ES p/60 this season)
So, it was all a dream right?
Well, after four straight wins including Tuesday night’s 4–1 skate over the Edmonton Oilers, to quote the recently returned Celine Dion, it’s all coming back to me now. There is a glimmer of hope now that Ottawa could become the only Canadian NHL team to qualify for the playoffs this year. But if the hill they had to climb last season was daunting, this time around it’s borderline insurmountable.
With 21 games remaining on their schedule, the Senators will need 35 points in order to match their 99-point total of last season and (theoretically) qualify for the tournament. Is this the type of team that you can see going, again hypothetically, 16-2-3 over those next 21 games?
A lot will need to fall perfectly into place for that to happen.
Now,Ottawa has been blessed with a tame late schedule. Just 10 of their next 21 games are against teams that currently in the playoffs and they have the good fortune of having two against the wilting Toronto Maple Leafs. These days, that’s as easy a gimme as you’re going to get.
The real test starts immediately after the Feb. 29 trade deadline. The Sens have four games in six days starting on Tuesday and three of them are against teams (St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars) that not just in the playoff picture but good enough to win their respective divisions. Get out of those games alive and thriving and the Sens could have a shot. A big if, of course. Losing more than two of those games would likely be too tough to recover from at this stage in the season.
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Unfortunately these games come when it's too late to deal. With the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf on February 9, it looked as if the Senators were going for it this season and would not become sellers at the deadline. It’s been reported that Ottawa General Manager Bryan Murray is not in the market for rental help, but perhaps two more wins on their current western swing (the Senators visit the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday and the Calgary Flames on Saturday night) could shift Murray’s line of thinking. The Sens desperately need a top-six forward to round out their group and while there are available options, Murray’s play essentially comes down to how much he believes this team can build momentum.
Let’s say he’s truly not looking for a rental player: Would nabbing Jonathan Drouin from the Lightning be enough of a spark for this team? That’s a lot to ask for a player who hasn’t suited up for an NHL game since December 30. The Senators have been closely linked to Drouin and you have to imagine that heading to a team that badly wants him in their lineup would give Drouin all the incentive he needs to produce at the level at which many believe he’s capable. Still, it might be a deal with the long-term future, not the immediate, in mind. If the Sens do trade for Drouin, he’d need to start scoring at a pretty serious clip (a la Mark Stone last year) for the deal to pay off immediately.
Finally, much like last season, Ottawa will need some drastically strong goaltending for their dreams to be revisited. The Senators currently sit 26th in the league in goals-against average and they’ll need consistently solid work from their number one net-minder. Through their first 30 games, Craig Anderson sported a .915 save percentage. Since then, it’s risen to .921. Not a huge jump but reason enough to believe that he is dependable enough to see this team through to the finish.
But of course, last season the Senators needed much more than just dependable goaltending towards the end.
So in the end, what they need to recapture last season’s late magic is very much the same formula they previously used. It may seem improbable but as of late the Senators have given fans reason to believe that history might repeat itself.