Boston beat New Jersey tonight in OT and the Sens are now 7 points behind with 2 games in hand and only Florida and Philly between them and the final playoff spot.
Sens beat Kings 1-0, Hammond gets shutout
Since Hammond has come in the Sens have won four straight and look like they could jump a few teams in the standings soon. Our schedule is a few games behind the rest of the conference right now and if we can keep up this dominance we could have a real shot at the last wild card spot. Although Hammond has played spectacularly, the Senators have clearly picked up their game and it seems to be a product of their offensive success since the 5-game home streak they just enjoyed before flying to California. Nearly every Ottawa forward has had a point in the last 7 games, but the top two lines of Michalek-Turris-Stone and Hoffman-Zibanejad-Ryan have been supplying the majority of the goals. Erik Karlsson has chipped in as well with some of the best hockey he's played all year.
Mark Stone has clearly become a star over the weeks since Cameron took over as head coach in December. He has been one of the highest played players recently, including last nights 1-0 win over LA. He is one of the league leaders in takeaways and has been consistently making huge plays every game. Actually, last night he had most of the Senators best chances but was stoned by Quick over and over. Stone has really developed into a great, very young player this season and will only be 23 next year. This guy has a great future and will get a huge raise this summer when he becomes an RFA - along with Zibanejad, who assisted the Sens only goal last night, Mike Hoffman, who leads the team in goals and scored the only goal last night, Pageau, who has been really impressive on the 3rd line but is having a hard time making a crowded top 6, and Chiasson, who has shown promise this year but has played a very small role on the 4th line.
Hammond deserves all the praise he's getting, but that shouldn't take attention away from the dominant play of the Senators. Kyle Turris has been a little unimpressive in his first year replacing Jason Spezza, but has been playing tremendously with Stone and Michalek. Michalek has been hot for a while now ever since he was put on the third line with Pageau and Lazar, but Stone should get the most credit for this lines success. He has made every line he's played on the Senators best right off the bat since starting the season on the 3rd line with Hoffman and Lazar. He has really earned his success and should become a household name next season.
Contract talks should be very interesting for a few of our RFAs this summer, but one has to be reminded of Stones fellow takeaway leader(3rd) Ryan O'Reilly(1st) when thinking about how the Senators should deal with his next contract. O'Reilly has been subject to trade rumours leading up to becoming a UFA next summer, 2016. Ever since being drafted in the same draft as Matt Duchene and ending up with not only a bigger contract, but becoming a UFA at the prime age of 25, O'Reilly has been one of the leagues hottest available players. The Avalanche would love to keep him but would have to offer him a ridiculous amount of money to keep him from testing the market as a 25 year old as most teams in the league would be extremely interested in signing him.
Like O'Reilly, Stone wasn't expected to be nearly as good as he has been at such a young age. Yes, O'Reilly was 33rd overall and Stone was 178th, but Stone will certainly have some bargaining power over Melnyk, who is probably worried about how he'll afford all these stars who have broken out at the same time out of nowhere. Whatever it is Stone thinks he's worth, I'm sure the Senators will do what it takes to keep him. I'd expect around a 4mil cap hit, most likely 4+ years with the later years of the contract seeing him get paid the majority. Hoffman could probably ask for something similar, but I'd expect him closer to a 3.5 cap hit. I could also see Hoffman asking for a short term contract and going for (possibly) another 30+ goal season next year so he can demand star money right away.
If you've been obsessed with Hoffman since his first game of the season like I have, you'll agree that he is underplayed. His average TOI this season is 4th lowest on the team of players currently in the line-up, although also lower than MacArthur. He's played 14:08, less than Legwand and Chiasson, and more than only JG Pageau, Lazar and Condra. I could talk about how Pageau has been one of the Senators best players and is underplayed as well all day, but Hoffman is certainly the easier argument. He's lead the team in goals since at least December, and currently has 6 more than Ryan, Turris and Zibanejad. Not bad for your first full season in the NHL as a 5th round pick and a slightly undersized player as well. He's listed at 6'0 185 but he looks even smaller than Karlsson on the ice, must be the way he skates...
Lastly, the Sens continue to play well with Cowen as a healthy scratch. The pairing of Boroweicki and Gryba have been playing very well and pushed Ceci to the bottom pairing last game, but I wouldn't be too sure that they aren't just benefitting from the dominant play of the Senators forwards. This may be one of those cases where possession in the offensive is better than playing defence, but both defencemen have been solid. Most people would like Cowen traded for a forward and give Wiercioch his spot next to Ceci, but Boroweicki has been impressive in his own right this year. This is a guy who plays a really gritty, dirty game and can make the other teams forwards think twice before galloping into our zone. I've been impressed with not only his skating, but his actual ability to be a shutdown defender this year. I never thought so much of Gryba, who I've seen as more of a goon that can skate backwards before recently, but Boroweicki might be the best fit to have an increased role. Wiercioch does have great possession stats and could form some pretty dangerous duos with Karlsson or Ceci, but most people agree he hasn't been that impressive when you actually watch the games. I think this may be a case where Wiercioch has played very minimally in the NHL, I haven't seen him make too many impressive defensive plays, but that could be because he breaks out of the zone so quick or is given predominantly offensive zone starts and powerplay time. Personally, I think the Sens need a guy like Cowen who can play top minutes - I haven't been impressed with him this season, but he was pretty good his last 2 full seasons and with his experience at such a young age it should only be a little longer before he finds his game. Until then, Binghamton D Chris Wideman is a much better pick to be our 7th defenceman.
Chris Wideman is tied with Shane Prince in the Binghamton for team lead in points at 42 in 53. Shane Prince is a forward, who actually looked really good in his 2 game stint with the Senators recently, and Chris Wideman is a right-shot defenceman. That means the spot he would be fighting for on the NHL roster would be behind Karlsson and Ceci - Eric Gryba. If we trade Wiercioch, on the left-side we would have Methot, Cowen and Boroweicki, all of which should remain Senators.
Wideman's been tearing up the AHL and will almost certainly have Grybas spot by the end of next seasons training camp. We've known this all year though, as Wideman was 4th in league scoring for defensemen last year with 51 in 73, which is why it is so necessary that one of Cowen or Wiercioch goes. On the other hand, why not trade Gryba, give Wideman his spot, have Wiercioch continue to fight for a spot with Cowen, and let management decide between Cowen and Wiercioch when the answer will be more clear. That could only work if the Sens can afford to be paying Wiercioch 2.7 to be the teams 7th defenceman, and they certainly will not be able to. Once again, with Stone, Zibanejad, Hoffman, Pageau and Chiasson all needing juicy new contracts who knows what Melnyk will do in order to find that money. We are one of the cheapest teams in the league right now, so I assume Melnyk planned that if they keep the team cheap and develop he can save money to spend big on a short period for that team to be contenders. I'm hoping a rich dude buys the team off him this summer when we can't afford Stone and Hoffman so we can spend to the cap, but unfortunately this is reality.
BTW I didn't think I even had to mention this, but the Sens need to keep Condra because he's amazing. I am not interested in seeing Zack Smith, Colin Greening or Chris Neil(unless its a Leafs game) ever again - barring injury.
Thanks for reading!