The Ottawa Senators find themselves on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff race for a number of reasons, but maybe the biggest is the team’s lack of offence. Despite their impressive top-six forward group, the Senators are tied for 17th in the league in goals-per-game. Through a combination of injuries, bad luck and inconsistent effort, the Senators’ struggling offence has left the team on the wrong side of several blowout losses this season.
However, in the Senators’ back-to-back wins against the San Jose Sharks and league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the team’s top offensive players exploded for 12 goals. Ottawa’s most prolific scorer of late has been one of their most under-the-radar forwards, Ryan Dzingel. The 25-year-old winger has scored four goals in his last three games and is only one goal shy of his career-best 14. Dzingel has been given a pretty consistent role on one of the team’s top two lines this year and has found recent success with Mark Stone and Derick Brassard.
With Brassard centering Stone and Dzingel for the last few games, Matt Duchene has been playing with Bobby Ryan and Mike Hoffman. After relegating Hoffman to the third line, where he has struggled to produce this season, the Senators’ leading shooter has found himself a linemate who can keep up with him. While Sens coach Guy Boucher has tried to spread out his team’s scoring, it looks like the Senators’ best players are most productive when playing with each other.
However, it’s not like Boucher is the only coach in the league who would rather ice a balanced forward group, as there has been a noticeable league-wide trend in recent years to spread out a team’s best forwards. While bunching together Ottawa’s best forwards may not be what Boucher wants to do, it would be a hard sell to change the line combinations that beat two very strong teams last week.
Anderson’s Quiet Resurgence
While the goal-scorers have been getting most of the attention, Craig Anderson has slowly started to look more like himself in recent games. The Sens’ starting goalie has faced a heavy workload, making over 30 saves in five of the last six games he’s started. Anderson almost single-handedly earned the Senators a point in the standings by making 33 saves on 35 shots in the team’s overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings last week. His game against the Sharks was significantly less flashy, as Anderson let in five goals in the first two periods of play, but made some key saves to keep the Senators within striking distance.
On Saturday night against the Lightning, Anderson only allowed three goals on 48 shots in a 6-3 Senators victory. The Sens were on the back foot for much of the game after going up 3-0, which led to a Tampa Bay comeback. Several big Anderson saves gave the Sens a chance to retake the lead late in the third period. Anderson is used to facing a lot of shots, and thrived under pressure on Saturday night. This is the Anderson that Sens fans are used to seeing, and a few more stellar performances should calm any concerns that the 36-year-old is finished.
Injuries and Opportunities
Despite the team’s offensive success in its last two games, the Sens may not have a choice when it comes to changing their lineup.
Have to wait and see on all the players. Thompson won't play. Brassard is injured. Duchene has flu. Ceci injury and Oduya injury. #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) January 8, 2018
Boucher said in his post-practice media availability on Monday that the status of four players is uncertain, and that a decision will be made before tonight’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks. With injuries and illness spreading through the Sens locker room, it looks like rookie forward Colin White will stay in the lineup after making his season debut on Saturday. White replaced Nate Thompson as Ottawa’s fourth line centre, playing less than eight minutes. White has had modest success in the AHL since recovering from the hand injury he suffered in the preseason, registering 13 points in 27 games with the Belleville Senators.
If some of the injured players aren’t ready to go, the Sens have a few options. On defence, Mark Borowiecki says he feels healthy enough to return to the lineup if one of Cody Ceci or Johnny Oduya aren’t ready. AHL defencemen Andreas Englund and Christian Jaros have drawn praise from management and have both played with the big club before, making them two potential call-up options. B-Sens forward Gabriel Gagne was recently named an AHL All-Star, and his lethal release has many Sens fans intrigued about what he could do at the NHL level.
Gabriel Gagné's shot is gonna be a problem 🚨 pic.twitter.com/17ZDfwxlwS
— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) January 4, 2018
The Senators will have to survive another tough back-to-back situation before their league-mandated week off, with the team traveling down the highway to face the Toronto Maple Leafs after their game against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night.