The 2018 Ottawa Senators have seen good and bad to start their season. At the time of writing, they have played 20 games. Their record in those games is 9-8-3. Good enough for 21 points, which has them sitting sixth in the Atlantic division. So, how have they played? What can we expect going forward? Here is the 2018 Ottawa Senators quarterly recap.
2018 Ottawa Senators Better Start Than Expected
Let’s start by taking a look at how the 2018 Ottawa Senators have actually played. They have a very middle of the pack record, sitting on the outside at the playoffs. However, their play itself has been a bit worrisome. They rank dead last in shot differential, with a CorsiFor% of 42.8%. The biggest worry about this is how many shot attempts they let up. The Sens have let up a league-leading 68.63 shot attempts per game so far this season. That is a number that will cause problems if it continues to be that high.
They rank 30th in Expected Goals For % with 43.57%. Another not so great stat for looking forward. The Senators have been outplayed at 5v5 this season and will need to find a way to improve if they want to keep the same results.
When we look at High Danger chances, we see that Ottawa has been middle of the pack at creating them thus far this season. Ranking 18th in HDCF, but ranking 24th in HDCA. Their HDCF% is 45.58% which ranks 26th in the league. Once again, not a great sign of play for the Senators. However, this is a young team and with young teams comes growing pains.
Young Players Stepping Up
The 2018 Ottawa Senators have seen some huge offensive improvement so far this season. This is due largely to the addition of young players and rookies getting big roles in the lineup. Maxime Lajoie, Brady Tkachuk, and Colin White have all played decent roles and really helped get the offence going. Drake Batherson has been lights out since getting his call-up. Before that Batherson was tearing up the AHL on a line with Logan Brown, and Rudolfs Balcers.
The biggest name of them all, however, has been Thomas Chabot. Chabot has been playing at a level that even surprised most Sens fans this season. He ranks second in NHL scoring by defensemen. He also has been one of Ottawa’s best possession players. He leads all Senators in TOI this season and it has been deservedly so. The Sens have an exciting piece in Chabot to build around going forward.
Important Forwards Playing Well
If we’re going to mention the rookies, we also need to give credit to some of the bigger named forwards on the 2018 Ottawa Senators. Heading into the season, most people figured the offence would come from three guys primarily. Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel. While the rookies have helped them a ton, these three have also done their part.
They rank first, second and fourth in Senators scoring. With 24, 23, and 18 points respectively. These guys have stepped up and really played well. I wrote about Mark Stone’s hot start. Showing how he has been the biggest difference maker on this team this year. He is one of the only 2018 Ottawa Senators to have a positive impact everywhere when on the ice. The scoresheet, possession, scoring chances. It all goes Ottawa’s way when Stone is on the ice.
Early Trade Returns Showing Well
I’ll start this off by saying I still in no way advocate the trading of Erik Karlsson. I will also say I think the return was underwhelming in terms of not getting a legit blue chip type prospect. However, what does have to be given credit is how well some of the returns from San Jose have looked playing this season.
Dylan DeMelo has been the Senators second-best defenceman, and he and Chabot have made a killer pairing. They are one of, if not the only pairing that controls the shot attempts while on the ice for Ottawa. I wrote about him earlier this season as well. Chris Tierney has also been solid on the scoresheet, scoring 16 points in 20 games. While both he and Mikkel Boedker have been very underwhelming in terms of possession, the point totals have at least been a nice surprise.
As stated earlier, Rudolf Balcers has been playing very well in the AHL. It should only be a matter of time before he gets a stint up with the big club. When you look at how Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson have performed this year, it’s fair to still criticize some of the return. However, the returns have played well so far, and have definitely exceeded expectations early on.
The Bottom Six
After looking at some high points in the 2018 Ottawa Senators season, it’s only fair to look at some low points too. The bottom six for Ottawa has definitely been a low point of the season. While the big names have come to play, the smaller ones have not.
Tom Pyatt has zero points in 20 games, despite having the ninth most TOI for Sens forwards, and eighth most at 5v5. He’s not alone though. Magnus Paajarvi has one point in 20 games, Max McCormick one point in 10 games, Zach Smith five points in 11 games. Alex Formenton and Christian Jaros haven’t looked great while playing. Granted, their linemates were often the guys just mentioned, or in Jaros place other defencemen who have struggled mightily. The bottom of the lineup needs to produce more.
Likely the worst part about the names mentioned above is there’s no real reason these scoring rates should improve looking at the numbers. Some of them may find a few more points here or there, however, everyone mentioned above has been caved in at 5v5 this year. All of the players mentioned above are below 45% in shot attempts which is bad enough. Pyatt, Paajarvi, Formenton and others are below 40% which is unacceptable. The play from the bottom 6 needs to improve if the Sens want better results.
The 2018 Ottawa Senators currently rank 24th in save percentage with a team save percentage of 0.894. A large part of this is because the Sens don’t have a true backup goalie. Mike Condon really struggled to start the year. He played in just two games and had a .800 save percentage. In his second game, he let a goal in from the opposite blueline and was waived the following day. The Sens recalled Mike McKenna who has played in three games and has a .857 save percentage.
This has lead to 37-year-old starter Craig Anderson having to start way too many games for the Sens this year. He has actually played alright given his workload. He has a .909 save percentage which isn’t flattering. He also has a -0.86 Goals Saved Above Average according to Corsica. This means he has been slightly below average compared to the league when factoring in shot difficulty. However, this is still an improvement on last year when he was one of the worst goalies in the league.
Overall, it is fair to say that goaltending has been an issue and will be going forward. Anderson is on pace to play in 74(!) of the games this season. Which is way too much. It is not his fault the team gives up way too many shots against either, but the Sens need to find a backup to help take the load off of Anderson. If they can get someone to help they can help improve Anderson’s results as well.
We will avoid talking about the Uber video in which the Penalty Kill was a very big talking point. However, it does need to be mentioned that the Sens penalty kill has been brutal this season. They currently rank 30th with a PK of 68.8%. That is all kinds of bad. Last season, the worst PK in the league ranked at 73.2%. Some changes obviously need to be made because they are letting up way too many goals at 4v5.
It should be mentioned, however, that Ottawa’s Power Play has been solid this season. Just a quick note, but they rank eighth in the league operating at 25.4%.
Heading forward, fans should try and temper expectations about the 2018 Ottawa Senators. The Sens have definitely been a nice surprise to start the season. However, a higher shooting percentage and some very bad underlying numbers suggest that there may be regression due. Trevor Shackles had a good piece on why regression will come for the Sens earlier this week.
The Senators likely will see some of the goals go away as the season goes on and with how many shots they give up per game that is not a good sign. The Sens have some major weaknesses they need to address if they want to get better. Weaknesses like bottom six, goaltending, and even more top end talent on the team.
There have definitely been some bright spots and things to look forward too, which is all most Senators fans wanted out of this season. One thing is for sure, the addition of young talent has made this team much more exciting to watch. Even with the poor play, the games are much more fast paced and better to watch. The Sens have lots to improve upon, but it has been a better start than most expected in the standings early on.