Paul MacLean

2011-12 season preview: Ottawa Senators

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2010-11 record: 32-40-10, 74 points; 5th in Northeast; 13th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Not that long ago, the Senators boasted one of the most talented rosters in the NHL, with a star-studded top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson supported by talents like Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat. (History is still trying to cope with what Wade Redden meant to those teams.)

The 2010-11 version was a far cry from those glory days. Heatley, Chara and Havlat are long gone while Spezza struggles to stay healthy and Alfredsson is likely a season or two from riding off into the sunset. GM Bryan Murray keeps firing coaches, but the hope is that former Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean can make magic with an ugly roster.

MacLean’s mustache is magical, if nothing else.

Offense

Only the New Jersey Devils (174 … seriously) scored fewer goals that Ottawa’s pitiful 192 last season. Despite missing 20 games, Spezza topped all Senators players with 57 points. Their second highest point producer was All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson (45). No one else broke the 40-point barrier. Yup, that edition was pathetic.

Nikita Filatov is the most notable offensive addition (stop laughing), unless you count first-round pick Mika Zibanejad. The one bright side – and expect this to be a running theme – is that the Senators basically have nowhere to go but up.

Defense

Well, uh … they still have Chris Phillips. Karlsson made the All-Star team, too. So they have that going for them.

The Senators probably wish they could take their logjam of defensemen and combine a few of them into a Frankenstein monster who could actually make a difference on this team. Imaginary mad science aside, there is at least one dream that isn’t totally crazy: maybe Sergei Gonchar can get his act together after an abysmal debut season. If Spezza and Alfredsson are healthy, the Senators might have a shot at putting a passable power play together with a rejiggered Gonchar, creating a combination that might help them steal a few games.

Goalies

Even though his contract is highly questionable, the Senators made a solid move in tabbing Craig Anderson as their goalie of the (near) future. Anderson struggled mightily last season after carrying a flawed Colorado team to the playoffs in 2009-10, but his previous work suggests that he can be at least an average starter in the NHL. That probably won’t be enough for next season, but if they can start putting things together, he should help them turn things around long-term.

Alex Auld has the chops to give Anderson a breather every know and then, which is a relief because Anderson hasn’t had a full-time workload very often in his career.

Coaching

MacLean matured as a coach in Detroit’s system and followed Mike Babcock around as his mustachioed right-hand man. A lot of teams are going the ‘hire the hot AHL coach’ route, but San Jose excelled nicely with the ‘hire a Red Wings assistant’ routine. Perhaps MacLean will produce similar results as mostly-successful Todd McLellan has.

Breakout candidate

Line combinations tend to change a lot in the NHL and there have been rumors that Alfredsson won’t play alongside Spezza this season (presumably to spread out the team’s offense and cover up for some lackluster depth). It wouldn’t be surprising if they found themselves together quite often next season, though, which could bode well for young winger Bobby Butler. He scored 10 goals in 36 NHL games last season and could very well flirt with 20-25 if he gets significant opportunities alongside Spezza and/or Alfredsson.

Best-case scenario

If you’re a season-ticket holder: MacLean motivates an unproven roster to provide depth for the team’s small stable of stars. Anderson stands on his head most nights, proving that last season was the fluke, not 2009-10. Spezza and Alfredsson put together healthy seasons and average close to a point-per-game each. The Senators make it to the playoffs and scare a division winner in the first round before bowing out in Game 6 or 7.

If you’re a big-picture fan: Spezza, Anderson and MacLean do just well enough to retain Murray’s faith for the near future. Alfredsson serves a greater purpose, whether it means showing young kids the ropes, retiring at the end of the season or producing a surprisingly strong trade package at the deadline. The Senators pull off the rare feat of being both respectable and a lottery team, allowing them to stock up on another set of prospects while earning a little patience from fans and the beer can hoarding media.

Reality

The Senators are a lousy team, although Spezza and Alfredsson could very well produce bounce-back years (while Gonchar could at least be functional). Anderson is a solid goalie who might hit some serious slumps behind a talent-poor squad, but should be given the leeway to stumble here and there.

Ottawa could flirt (at least briefly) with playoff contention, but it would be in their best interest to lay low in the cellar and re-stock the cupboard with young talent. This franchise is in a really tough spot, so making the postseason just to get bounced dismissively from the first round wouldn’t do them much good.

Goalie nods: Jones heating up, will start again for Sharks

Martin Jones, Brent Burns
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Martin Jones has rediscovered the form he showed this past spring.

Jones, who was arguably the Sharks’ MVP through their Stanley Cup Final run, will look to win his fourth straight start when when San Jose hosts Ottawa this evening.

It’s been a banner past couple of weeks for the 26-year-old. Things started with a 26-save shutout against New Jersey on Nov. 21 — from there, Jones won three of his next four starts, allowing just six goals over that span, to finish the month of November with a .924 save percentage.

On Friday, he kicked off Decmeber in similar style, making 31 saves in a tight 2-1 win over the Canadiens.

It’s a nice turnaround from the beginning of the season, when Jones was OK — but not great — and finished October at 4-3-0 with a .916 save percentage. Given how vital he is to the club’s success, it’s no coincidence San Jose has played well of late. The Sharks are 6-1 in their last seven and within one point of first-place Edmonton in the Pacific Division (the Sharks do have three games in hand, and could surpass the Oilers this evening).

For the Sens, Mike Condon gets the start in goal. Craig Anderson didn’t make the trip with Ottawa out west.

Elsewhere…

Devan Dubnyk makes career start No. 300 when the Wild take on the Leafs in Toronto. He’ll be up against Frederik Andersen, who projects to get a ton of work moving forward, given ex-backup Jhonas Enroth is now with the AHL Marlies.

— Tantalizing matchup brewing in Washington, as Braden Holtby and the Caps host Boston. Tuukka Rask, who has been busy lately, projects to get the nod as he was in the starter’s crease at the morning skate.

— The ‘Canes continue to roll with Cam Ward as they begin their three-game California trip in Anaheim. The Ducks will counter with John Gibson, after Jonathan Bernier was in for all eight goals in Sunday’s ugly loss to Calgary.

The Leafs need some wins, starting tonight against Minnesota

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Mitchell Marner #16, Auston Matthews #34, and Nikita Soshnikov #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a victory against the Vancouver Canucks in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent road trip to Western Canada. They beat the Oilers, lost to the Flames, then probably deserved better in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks.

But if these Leafs (10-9-5) want to stay in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule. Starting tonight against Minnesota, they play six of their next seven at home. Their only road game is Saturday in Boston.

Mike Babcock’s bunch entered the day six points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot. The coach liked how his charges played Saturday in Vancouver, where they outshot the Canucks, 40-24, but could get only get two pucks past Ryan Miller.

“I thought we played well,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to give Miller a lot of credit, I thought he did a real nice job for them and kind of held the fort there. I was pleased with our effort. You’d love to get the other point, sure, but that was a good game for our team. I thought we really pushed hard as the game went on.”

Tonight in Minnesota’s crease, the Leafs will see one of the hottest goalies in hockey. Devan Dubnyk is 10-6-3 with a .946 save percentage. He’s been the Wild’s MVP this season, and it’s not even a debate.

“He has given us a chance every night, he has been spectacular, especially late in games,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Toronto Star. “We play so many close games he has to make saves to get us to overtime or to seal the game. I know we don’t get us much press as the people up here (in Canada), but he’s been as good as any goalie in the league.”

It’ll be up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs to turn their solid puck-possession numbers into goals, while making sure not to give the Wild too many scoring chances the other way.

Defense has been an issue for Toronto this season. The running-and-gunning Buds have the third-worst goals-against average in the league (3.08), lower than only Dallas (3.22) and Arizona (3.16).

Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

Lindy Ruff
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Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

But in many ways, it was exactly that.

Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

Tough times in Dallas.

The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

 

 

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

preds

That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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