Ottawa Senators v New Jersey Devils

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.

After ‘rough year,’ Kronwall seeking options for ailing knee

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) is tripped up by Detroit Red Wings' Niklas Kronwall (55), of Sweden, during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Detroit. The Red Wings defeated the Jets 3-2. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Coming off one of the worst seasons in an otherwise solid — and lengthy — career, Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall is already looking to ensure the knee issues that plagued him won’t continue on into 2016-17.

Kronwall is “getting opinions” about how to fix the knee, Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press. The injury limited the Swedish rearguard to just 64 games played — and those 64 games were largely played with Kronwall not close to 100 percent.

More, from the Free Press:

At 35, Kronwall is showing the wear and tear of being, at his best, a hard-hitting workhorse defenseman. Productionwise, he had the lowest numbers of his career since 2006-07, scoring just three goals and finishing with just 26 points in 64 games. (Even during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he had five goals and 29 points in 48 games.) His minus-21 was eye-popping.

“It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways,” Kronwall said. “Definitely, a summer of good training is the first thing that you need, and the rest of it will play out as you go along.”

The Wings will be hopeful Kronwall can return to form.

He’s still got plenty of time left on his current deal — three more years, at a $4.75M cap hit — and is still considered a key part to the Red Wings defense, which wasn’t great this year and doesn’t project to be a heckua lot better next year.

If Kronwall can’t get back to form, it could push Holland even harder to make a trade to beef up the blueline.

Halak practices fully, hoping to be back soon

Jaroslav Halak
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Jaroslav Halak took a major step in his return from a groin injury on Monday, participating in a full practice with his Islander teammates ahead of tomorrow’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

“He’s progressing,” head coach Jack Capuano said, per the Isles’ website. “I don’t know how far or where he is or when he could play, but I know that having him on the ice going through a full practice, but again it’s about conditioning and timing with goaltenders and their movement, but he’s progressing and it’s great to see.

“I don’t have a timetable yet though.”

Halak hasn’t played in nearly two months — he suffered his groin injury on Mar. 8. His initial timetable for return was 6-8 weeks, and Tuesday will mark his eighth week out of action.

It seems highly unlikely Halak will be an option — at least in terms of starting — anytime soon. He told the Isles’ site the lengthy layoff means it now feels “like the beginning of the season for me,” and Thomas Greiss has performed well through the playoffs thus far, posting a .937 save percentage and 2.06 GAA.

If anything, Halak’s goal could be to get in good enough shape to serve as Greiss’ backup at some point. J.F. Berube has filled that role during the postseason, but has yet to see any action.

Prior to getting hurt, Halak was New York’s No. 1 netminder and played reasonably well, posting a .919 save percentage and 2.30 GAA in 36 starts.

Martin Jones is making Doug Wilson look pretty smart

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 01:  Martin Jones #31 and Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks blocks the shot of Colton Sissons #10 of the Nashville Predators in Game Two of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. at SAP Center on May 1, 2016 in San Jose, California. The Sharks won the game 3-2. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The thing about rolling the dice on an unproven goalie is that you can look really foolish if it doesn’t work out.

That’s the risk Doug Wilson took when he bet on Martin Jones. Fortunately for the Sharks’ general manager, it’s looking like a great wager these days.

Seven games into the playoffs and Jones is 6-1 with a .923 save percentage. The 26-year-old has been especially good against the Predators. He was named first star in Game 2, a 3-2 San Jose victory that gave the Sharks a 2-0 series lead.

Jones, you’ll recall, was acquired in an offseason trade with the Bruins. The Sharks gave up a first-round draft pick and a prospect to get their man, whom they immediately signed to a three-year, $9 million contract.

At the time, Jones had only started 29 games in the NHL. He was slated to battle Alex Stalock — another relatively inexperienced guy — for the starting job in San Jose.

“I think I’m ready to definitely take that step and play more hockey games,” Jones said. “I had a great two years in L.A. learning from Jonathan Quick. It’s been a big couple of years in my development and I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

Make no mistake, it was a big risk for Wilson to bet on such an inexperienced tandem. If the Sharks had missed the playoffs again this year, who knows what would’ve happened in San Jose?

But while goaltending remains arguably the most important position in hockey, recent history shows it doesn’t take an experienced, big-money netminder to win. Quick had a $1.8 million cap hit when he won his first Stanley Cup with the Kings. Corey Crawford‘s cap hit was just under $3 million when he won his first Cup with the Blackhawks, who had Antti Niemi and his sub-$1 million salary in goal when they won in 2010.

Quick and Crawford have both signed big deals since. But the temptation for frugality remains, thanks to a seemingly endless supply of quality netminders. After all, the more cap space a team can save on its goalies, the more it can spend on its skaters.

The key, obviously, is picking the right horse. Choose poorly and it can be a disaster. That’s why some GMs will opt to pay a premium for experience. Track records can be comforting. Youngsters, on the other hand, can buckle under the weight of expectations.

So far, Jones has handled the postseason pressure like a veteran, and he’s a big reason why the Sharks are two wins from reaching the Western Conference Final.

Seguin resumes skating in Dallas, Ruff notes ‘they have flights into St. Louis every day’

Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin makes a pass during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The latest on Tyler Seguin (and fellow injured Stars forward Patrick Eaves), per the Dallas Morning-News:

Q: On the statuses of Patrick Eaves (leg) and Tyler Seguin (Achilles)

Lindy Ruff: “Both skated today, both progressing.”

Q: On if Seguin and Eaves will travel with the team to St. Louis for Game 3

LR: “No, but they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Seguin, as you’ve probably heard, hasn’t played since a Game 2 win over Minnesota in the opening round.

That was on Apr. 16.

Dallas’ All-Star center returned from a partially lacerated Achilles to participate in said Game 2, a nasty injury that cost him the final 10 games of the regular season and the series opener against the Wild.

The Stars say this latest injury has nothing to do with the previous one, but reporters haven’t been privy to much information beyond that.

In speaking last week, Ruff didn’t even want to put a timetable on Seguin’s return, for fear of what an inaccurate timetable might cause.

“I really can’t,” Ruff said. “I don’t even have a guesstimate on it. I don’t even think it’d be fair. If I guessed and if I’m off, everybody else will be wondering why did he guess that?”

GM Jim Nill did say the club expected Seguin to miss the first two games of the Blues series and, as of last Thursday, confirmed Seguin wasn’t skating.

“He’s day-to-day,” Nill explained. “Once he gets on the ice, it’s probably four to five days from there.”

This series, currently tied 1-1, will resume on Tuesday from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.