We haven’t seen the Senators since October 27th. They were slumping, but came in and dismantled a lackluster Sabres team. It was Ottawa’s 8th win against Buffalo in their last 13 games. That was a long time ago, but when you really think about it not much has changed. The Sabres are still playing up and down hockey, and Ottawa has continued to struggle. A few weeks ago Puck Daddy had a good post about Ottawa’s troubles, which included a quote from their Owner, Eugene Melnyk:
“Come March, they’re going to talk about the miracle turnaround of the Ottawa Senators.”
“I fully expect us to be in the top four teams in the conference.”
That’s all well and good, but the more you look at this team the easier it is to find the problems. As Wyshynski says, it’s pretty obvious that Ottawa is a one line team. Their salaries show it, and their statistics make it quite evident as well. This is a system that Ottawa has used for the last few years, and while they have gotten very, very close to winning it all; this looks like it could be the death rattle of it all.
The problem isn’t that the Big Three aren’t producing, but that the rest of the team isn’t. Take another look at those team statistics; after Spezza, Heatley, and Alfredsson there isn’t much left. The next two players on the list are both defenseman, Philip Kuba and Alexandre Picard. Kuba has 22 assists, and Picard only has 13 points total.
Compare that to the middle of the road Sabres, who have ten players with at least 13 points, as well as Numminen and Afinogenov sitting at twelve (and considered complete disappointments to boot). Although the Sabres have struggled, they have maintained the balanced scoring necessary to follow their formula, while still having Roy and Vanek outscoring (or matching) the big three.
Point production from their other lines is an issue, but they have other problems as well. Both Auld and Gerber have struggled, both with below .500 records and a save percentage hovering just above .900. Auld has started more games despite making almost $3 million less than Gerber, which only shows just how much both have struggled.
Their defense has been dismantled and replaced with little effect. Corvo*, Commodore*, Redden, and Meszaros all either were traded or left via free agency this summer, and while Kuba has played very well (he’s a monster on the PP) but he’s been hurt for some time now. Jason Smith hasn’t been great, and the younger players Ottawa has used like Lee and Bell haven’t been spectacular, either.
What’s scary about Ottawa’s current situation is that it happened so fast. They sunk a ton of money into three or four players, signed smaller deals with a group of guys they thought could produce, and suddenly are stuck with a team with very little turnover and a spot in the basement of the East. Things could change and their young talent could improve, but it’s getting a bit too late for that this season. Mirtle has his “Push for 90” numbers up, and the Sens would need to finish 29-16-0 to hit the magic number necessary for a playoff spot. When James says to “stick a fork” in Ottawa, I can’t argue with him.
That doesn’t mean Ottawa won’t beat Buffalo tonight, but only that they shouldn’t. The Sabres have struggled against Ottawa for the past few seasons, but for as uneven as their play has been they are still the better team. Ottawa has the fatal flaws of top-heavy scoring, bad defense, and disappointing goaltending. The Sabres may have one of those problems, but they are certainly in a position to improve before time runs out.
More on tonight’s game in a bit.
*Corvo was traded at the deadline for Commodore, but still.