Are the Ottawa Senators really this bad?

When a team gets blasted 7-1 at home against the Colorado Avalanche, people start asking questions. Most people expected that the Senators were going to struggle this season. The common consensus was that the Sens would finish at the bottom of the Northeast Division and would be near the basement in the Eastern Conference. Just looking at the roster in the offseason revealed a team that had question marks all over the ice. When a team has too many question and not enough answers, the pundits will have their doubts.

Thinking a team is going to be bad and watching it play out in real life are two completely different things. Through four games, the Sens are 1-3 and have been outscored by nine goals in only a week—easily the worst in the league. They are one come-from-behind shootout victory from being winless going into a Saturday night game against the dangerous Washington Capitals.

So are the Sens really this bad?

Unfortunately, the early returns are a resounding “Yes.” The rebuilding Sens are an ugly mix of veterans way past their prime and young prospects struggling to find their way in the NHL. Filip Kuba has looked awful thus far; the only reason Kuba isn’t getting more negative press is because Sergei Gonchar looks like a guy who isn’t even pretending to exert any effort. The least he could do is to have the decency to look like he was trying. The worse part: these are two of the defensemen who are supposed to be showing the young blueliners the “right” way to play the game. Nice mentoring.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, former first round draft picks like Jared Cowen, David Rundblad, and Brian Lee are all trying establish themselves in the NHL. As any coach or GM in the league will tell you, there’s always a learning curve for young defensemen when they’re trying to break into the league. A team can hide an inexperienced defenseman, but it’s impossible to hide three (especially when the veterans are playing just as poorly). The two main problems for the Senators blueline right now are a) Erik Karlsson can’t play 60 minutes per game and b) Karlsson can’t be his own defensive partner. Aside from those two problems, their blueline looks great.

The forward situation is better than the defense, but still has similar problems. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is on the backside of his career, while young guys like Peter Regin, Bobby Butler, and Colin Greening are being asked to play roles that they’re not quite ready to handle yet. Mika Zibanejad looks like he could still be another season away and Nikita Filatov has already been sent to the AHL. Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have both been good in the early going—but not the kind of dominant players who can carry a team that has problems with depth. It’s just not there yet.

And then there’s goaltending. Craig Anderson was supposed to be the beacon of hope in an otherwise challenging season in Ottawa. His impressive numbers down the stretch last season (2.05 GAA, .939 save percentage) earned him a 4-year contract extension worth $12.75 million. The Sens management was banking on the idea that Anderson’s struggles in Colorado were a temporary bump in the road for the former 3rd round pick.

Right now, Anderson has a 5.07 goals against average and an .853 save percentage in four starts. For people who have watched all four games, those numbers actually sound better than they could be. Backup Alex Auld will get to try his hand in net against the Capitals on Saturday. Nothing like a game against Alexander Ovechkin and Co. to break in the backup goaltender.

There are rebuilding years and then there are rebuilding years. Ottawa looks like they have put together a team fully capable of being #1 as soon as this season. Unfortunately, when we say #1, we mean the #1 pick in the Entry Draft next June. They’re going to need their older players to find a fountain of youth, young players to mature in a hurry, and their best players to play even better if they want to be competitive at all this season.

Otherwise, it could be a tougher road that we originally thought.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

Getty
2 Comments

The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

Getty
3 Comments

Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.

‘A good start’ — Stamkos stands out in preseason debut

Getty
2 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning and National Hockey League unveiled the 2018 All-Star Game logo Friday.

Far more importantly for the Bolts this evening was the return of their all-star center Steven Stamkos, as he made his preseason debut in what was his first game in 10 months.

His 2016-17 season was abruptly ended in the middle of November because of a knee injury and subsequent surgery, making it the second time in four years his regular season had been disrupted by a major injury.

It may still take a while before Stamkos feels truly comfortable coming back from this injury.But his performance on Friday proved to be a very promising start for No. 91, the Bolts and their fans in Tampa Bay.

He didn’t score, but he assisted on two first period goals, including a nice set-up to linemate Nikita Kucherov, and the Lightning beat the Nashville Predators by a score of 3-1. Stamkos also received a healthy dose of ice time, playing more than 19 minutes, including 5:32 on the power play.

His pass to Kucherov resulted in a power play goal.

“It was exciting to get out there, I was pretty anxious about it… It was a good start, something to build on,” said Stamkos afterward, per the Lightning. “It was nice to just go through a game day, I haven’t done it in a long time… I was glad with how the first one went.”

Golden Knights assign 2017 first-round picks Glass, Suzuki to junior

Getty
Leave a comment

The Vegas Golden Knights continue to make roster moves during their inaugural training camp.

On Friday, the expansion club assigned four players to junior. That includes 2017 first-round picks Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Nick Suzuki of the Owen Sound Attack.

The Golden Knights made franchise history by taking Glass with the sixth overall pick and then selected Suzuki at 13th overall. Both players appeared in two preseason games for Vegas, each recording two points in the exhibition opener versus the Vancouver Canucks.

“Nobody is going to rush (the rookies), that’s for sure,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant told the Las Vegas Sun following the club’s 9-4 win over Vancouver on Sunday.

“We are in a position where we want to make sure they are ready to play. They are going to be good players when they’re healthy and strong enough to play in the league.”

Vegas has all three 2017 first-round picks — Glass, Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom — signed to three-year entry-level contracts.