The Ottawa Senators will continue the 8 game road swing featuring the likes of the Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils, but they will first have to kick off the road swing with back to back games against the Calgary Flames tonight, and the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow. Not an easy challenge for any team.
The Sens currently sit 12th in the East with 3 games on hand, and though they have struggled throughout the year, it is clearly evident they are under performing (more than likely an understatement) for the amount of talent they have committed to this year's roster.
In spite of their weak start, Filip Kuba, acquired for Meszaros in the offseason, has been nothing short of spectacular in his debut season for the Senators as he has posted 22 points in 31 games and is only 15 points shy of his career high. He's on pace to shatter his 06/07 total by close to 20 points, and he's doing so with the highest plus/- on the club with 8. Meszaros, on the other hand, has just 9 points in 34 games this season and plays a couple of minutes more per game compared to Kuba. Add to that trade the return of Picard (11 points, +4), third on the team in plus/minus, and a 1st to the package and I'd say the Senators made a steal of a deal.
Unfortunately, the Senators were depending on Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips to continue their great two way play (Volchenkov: 06/07 +37, 07/08 +14 and Phillips: 06/07 +36, 07/08 +15) are currently at a combined -28 and we are only a third the way through the season. An odd stat to consider is their 89 goals against - 8th best in the league. They've improved their defense core, and yet Volchenkov and Phillips, past season shut down juggernauts, are standing in front of decent goaltending (Auld: 0.911 SV%, Gerber 0.908 SV%), but can't get the job done.
Throw in the fact the number 1 line of Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson has provided over 50% of the scoring with 38 goals (43 including Kuba and Picard) and are the lowest "unpredicted" scoring team in the NHL (77) - only 1 goal shy of the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning. That being said, if the opposition shuts down the top line then there's nothing the Senators can do. The secondary players just are not getting the job done.
Last season, the franchise stumbled just past the midway mark of the year and have replaced the coach and dropped Emery in the process. This season, they are a more defensive club but the top role players just are not finishing their plays anymore. It makes you wonder if the fault lies within the team or the coaching staff. No one can say it's due to lack of goaltending at those stats.
There could be a rift in the dressing room as reported several times by major media outlets. The "shake-up" method of breaking of the "three kings" is old news, and quite honestly, has never worked. Mike Fisher isn't providing the scoring touch they are paying him for ($4.2M until the end of the 2012/13 season). This season alone he is being paid $6.0M. Pretty good wages for a guy who has never broken 50 points.
You can argue that they need a puck moving defensemen or a second line scoring tandem or quite possibly another shake up in management, or even all of the above. But it all comes down to one question: are the Ottawa Senators an unsolved mystery?
Micheal A. Aldred