Flip The Switch: Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators Need Changes in Strategy

With training camp opening in less than two weeks, the NHL season is approaching quickly. Camp can be an interesting time for NHL teams. Staffs take the time to implement strategies and changes in their team’s systems while players try their best to excel at them. When puck drop occurs in October all NHL teams will try to be best prepared for it. Heading into camp the Ottawa Senators have much to do to implement their system. But perhaps it is time for a change in strategies from head coach Guy Boucher and the rest of his staff.

Ottawa Senators Strategies Need Work

After a terrible season on all accounts last year, the Senators headed into the off-season with their heads hung low. Everything seemed to be going wrong for the team as soon as December and January came around. Head coach Guy Boucher has always been recognized for his strong defensive systems. The Senators were the second worst team in the league last year at keeping the puck out of their net. They finished the year with 3.46 goals-against per game average. Their penalty kill was also atrocious. Finishing 26th in the league the Sens penalty kill stalled at 76.2 percent. In terms of shots against per game, the Senators finished 25th with 33.1.

The offence was not any better either for the team. After a mediocre first year with Boucher regarding the Sens offence, 2017-18 was much of the same story. The Ottawa Senators finished 25th in the league in goals for per game with an average of 2.67. Their power-play was a complete blackout and never presented a threat to opposing teams. The Sens power-play finished 27th in the league with an appalling 16.6 percent. They took 30 shots per game, ranking 17th in the league.

With the knowledge and credibility attached to Guy Boucher regarding his systems, this is a huge X-factor for the Senators. To really go into detail about how much of a step back the team took regarding their systems, the following part will feature graphs showcasing their alarming issues.

Vast Differences in Boucher’s First and Second Season

After a successful first year with the Senators, it all came crashing down for Guy Boucher in his second year as bench boss. All the defensive work that was implemented within the Ottawa Senators came flying out the window in 2017-18. Here is a comparison of Boucher’s first and second season plus the differences.

2016-17

Standings: 12th in the NHL (44-28-10) with 98 points
Goals against per game: 10th in the NHL (2.56)
Penalty kill: 22nd in the NHL (79.7%)
Shots against per game: 15th in the NHL (30.1)
Goals for per game: 22nd in the NHL (2.51)
Power play: 23rd in the NHL (17%)
Shots for per game: 17th in the NHL (30)

2017-18

Standings: 30th in the NHL (28-43-11) with 67 points
Goals against per game: 30th in the NHL (3.46)
Penalty kill: 26th in the NHL (76.2%)
Shots against per game: 25th in the NHL (33.1)
Goals for per game: 25th in the NHL (2.67)
Power play: 27th in the NHL (16.6%)
Shots for per game: 24 in the NHL (30.7)

The two seasons are complete 180 turnarounds when it comes to the defensive game. Important to note that in the 2016-17 season, the Ottawa Senators PK finished 22nd due to a sluggish finish to the year. For instance, the PK from January 1st, 2017 to March 1st their PK sat 11th best in the league with an 81.8 percent average. From March 1st to April 10th they were ranked dead last in the league with a 71.4 percent average. This was a huge difference from mid-season to the finish line.

Next, let’s look at where shots were taken and allowed from in the Senators two separate seasons. These graphs that you see can be found at Micah Blake McCurdy’s site Hockeyviz.com

Shot Heat Maps 2016-17

Shots Taken 5vs5

With low goal totals in their season, you can see why from the representations on this graph. The majority of their shots came by the boards. By doing this they were never able to present a challenge to the opposition’s goaltender. Where most opportunities lie in between the circles, the Sens generated almost no shots from that position. A change in offensive strategies could see the Sens opening up more lanes and creating better scoring chances for themselves in the future.

Shots Allowed 5vs5

The Senators defensive structure was one of the best in that season. Slowing down players with extra help and boxing out in front of their netminder was the key to their success. The Sens coverage was aware of how to counter shots against that came their way. The majority of shots that the Ottawa Senators allowed came from the blueline or near their boards. Giving teams almost no room to set up fancy plays in the slot area. While they did allow 30 shots per game that year it is important to note where the shots were coming from. In this instance, they rarely came from high danger scoring areas.

Shots Allowed PK

Their shots against on the penalty kill also came mainly from the point. Except for this time they struggled with boxing out defenders near their goalie’s crease. With not being able to do this, goaltender Craig Anderson and Mike Condon were unable to have a clear vision of where the shot was coming from. Causing them to be a hair late to the puck at times

Shots Taken PP

Much like their shots taken at even strength, the Senators were unable to get inside the dots on the man advantage also. The dark green shows the cold areas from where shots were generated at. With the majority of shots taken from the blueline or the boards, the Senators once again presented no threat to goalies even when having an extra man than the opposing squad.

Shot Heat Maps 2017-18

Shots Taken 5vs5

While improving from the previous year and generating more shots down by the net, the Sens offence was still quite bleak. With a lot of shots still coming from the boards, the Sens inner slot chances were nowhere to be found. Lack of efficiency in the offensive end put the Ottawa Senators in this position. By looking at ways to improve this area of their game it could be a big step for them heading forward.

Shots Allowed 5vs5

This was by far the most disappointing aspect of the Senators year. In 2016-17 the Senators were known for not letting opponents generate the majority of their shots between the dots. 2017-18 was a free pass to teams when it came to shots near their net. You can see just by looking at last year’s heat map that their slot chances against were abysmal. For this reason, the Senators suffered and could continue to suffer if they do not patch up this part of their game.

Shots Allowed PK

Last season was similar to 2016-17 when it came to shots allowed on the penalty kill. With more shots this time coming on the boards, the Sens were once again unable to clear a plater or two. It should be mentioned that some shots were just remarkably well taken from shooters. Not all is to be blamed on the defence and goalies, but if they followed strategies it might have made their life easier.

Shots Taken PP

This is starting to become like a broken record. The Ottawa Senators shot generation on the man advantage once again struggled. This time it was even worse than in the 2016-17 season. With shots coming from the blueline in 2016, the Sens shot generation in 2017 was almost always on the right-hand side. Limiting themselves to no room for other options and sticking to only one area. More moving around and thinking ahead could help the Senators find new ways to get more dangerous shots on net on the powerplay.

Senators Strategies Going Forward

For Guy Boucher, this season could be his last season if things go south in the nation’s capital. Going into his final contract year Boucher could be shown the door. Whether he is to blame is a discussion for another day but that is the challenge he currently faces. It is safe to say that the Sens strategies need work going forward. Guy Boucher was brought on by the Ottawa Senators for his organized strategies and those began to slip away in 2017. His offensive strategies to some have still barely clicked in and this year will be his third year behind the bench.

Boucher will have to take proper steps to make sure that this season is not a repeat of last. While doing this he will have to make sure the Ottawa Senators adapt to new strategies in a timely manner for puck drop in October. Heading into a make or break year Boucher should look at all options for his team and for his coaching position going forward. Time will now tell if Boucher goes all in on tweaking things, or folds under the pressure.

 

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