The Ottawa Senators have had a dreadful start to the season. At the time of writing, they are 1-7-1 and are about the play the Edmonton Oilers again. On Sunday, they lost to the Oilers 8-5. In that game, the Ottawa Senators penalty kill allowed four powerplay goals on five attempts. The Oilers also had a goal on a delayed penalty. This was the peak of the issue, but it has been an issue all year. And if they don’t fix the Ottawa Senators penalty kill, losing games won’t change anytime soon.
Ottawa Senators Penalty Kill a Major Issue
There have been lots of issues with the Sens this season. However, maybe none bigger than the struggles of their penalty kill. It’s currently operating at a measly 68.4%, which ranks fourth-worst in the entire league. However, raw penalty kill statistics never really do it justice. As every goal is treated the same, whether it’s scored three seconds in or with three seconds left. To look further, we can go to Natural Stat Trick and take a look at their shot attempts, goals, and expected goals allowed on the penalty kill. For this, we will be using per 60 minutes as a rate as not everyone has played the same amount of time on the penalty kill.
Currently, the Ottawa Senators penalty kill has given up 114.61CA/60, 11.61GA/60, and 7.69xGA/60 this season. Those rates rank third, fifth, and seventh last in the entire league. Below them are often teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres. Not teams you exactly want to rank with consistently. They’re also allowing the seventh most high danger chances against on the penalty kill currently too.
This also shows when we look at HockeyViz to gather the shot location that Ottawa allows on the penalty kill.
As you can see, the Sens are bleeding shots from all around the slot. The big question is, what’s causing this?
This seems to be the biggest issue with the Ottawa Senators penalty kill. They lack any kind of aggressiveness and it appears to be a systems thing. None of their killers force the power play to move the puck quickly and get it out of trouble. Instead, they all collapse in a diamond mid slot. This allows the teams to walk in and absolutely fire away at the goalie, who often has no sightline on the puck. Even worse, they seem to be so committed to the diamond that players sneak right in behind it and are left untouched at the side of the net. Below are some examples.
2-0 on the PP… Not sure the greatest PK tactic is to let a guy sit alone beside your net… pic.twitter.com/PocAMpxLyT
— Alex Metzger (@nhlsensandstuff) February 1, 2021
Pettersson makes it 4-1 on the PP. Ottawa needs a new PK badly. pic.twitter.com/Qh2A0Wnob7
— Alex Metzger (@nhlsensandstuff) January 28, 2021
Stastny gets a PP goal as OTT runs into penalty troubles… 4-3. pic.twitter.com/rXLJ7mGVQ7
— Alex Metzger (@nhlsensandstuff) January 24, 2021
Above is just three of what is likely over 10 examples that can be pulled from the penalty kill already this season. The Sens lay back and it allows the opposing team to walk in and move it at will. It’s an outdated and ineffective strategy. Whether it’s the system at fault or the players, something needs to change. Instead, a team like Ottawa should be looking to use speed to disrupt the movement. Getting aggressive and forcing teams to make passes quickly and often that they don’t want is what forces mistakes.
From there, you can use speed the other way to try and get a counterattack, or even just clear the puck out of danger and change. Either way, it’s out of their end. Teams such as the Montreal Canadiens do this effectively. So much so that they already have six short-handed goals on the young season.
Part of playing the aggressive style mentioned above means a personnel change may be needed. Currently, the Sens leaders in penalty kill time per game are names such as Erik Gudbranson, Brayden Coburn, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Josh Brown, Austin Watson, and Cedric Paquette. The trend? There are lots of quotes “tough to play against” guys in the names just mentioned. The issue? That makes it almost impossible to play the aggressive style of penalty kill. As well, Coburn, Pacquette, Gudbranson, and Watson are four of the bottom five skaters for CA/60 on the penalty kill this season (minimum one minute per game averaged) in Ottawa. C. Brown is in there as well, which is concerning. However, he at least has speed that may benefit more from the aggressive style of play.
Names like Nick Paul and Thomas Chabot have been incredibly effective at limiting the shot attempts against while out there. As well, allowing guys like Paul or Colin White to find some more ice time on this team could be extremely helpful. It’s time to stop throwing the guys who are gritty out there just because. Multiple teams are sending their top players out there, especially forwards. It doesn’t even need to be guys like Drake Batherson killing the bulk of penalties either, but injecting some more speed into the lineup could work wonders.
Filip Chlapik is someone who comes to mind right away. It’s not like he or Paul have blazing speed, but they’re skilled and quick enough to take advantage of a sloppy turnover. They’re also incredibly more useful at 5v5 than the current guys too, so it’s a win-win.
Need a Save
Some people will also be right to point out that goaltending needs to improve too. While some of them they have no chance on, such as Coburn losing his man beside the net for an easy tap-in, others need to be saved. Simply put, Matt Murray and Marcus Hogberg have been nowhere near good enough this season. The Senators currently have the fourth-worst save percentage on the penalty kill at a measly .793. You’re just not going to win many hockey games if over 20% of the shots on a PP are going in.
This has been an issue at 5v5 for the team too. And yes, there is a lot Ottawa can do to help them out, it is still a massive issue. No one is expecting .925 goaltending behind this team, but being this bad can’t last. Especially on the penalty kill. If the structure is going to be poor, the goalies need to step up. Neither have happened so far and it’s showing.
There’s a lot of work to do with this Ottawa team. Some of it will come naturally as the young guys get even stronger. Some of it will come as more young players replace the veterans who seem to be causing so many issues during the game. However, it’s very clear that this Ottawa Senators penalty kill desperately needs a change. They will continue to lose games if it remains this poor, especially because they haven’t been an extremely disciplined team thus far. Whether it’s system or personnel, or both, Ottawa needs a shakeup.