A perfect weekend on the road led to two straight wins by the Ottawa Senators and a playoff spot, despite early season predictions to the contrary. The Senators started the weekend with a 4-3 shootout in Philadelphia against the Flyers on Saturday and then followed that up with a 5-1 victory in Long Island against the Islanders on Sunday. A game which saw Ottawa play without two of their better players, Jason Spezza at home for the birth of his child and Daniel Alfredsson out with the flu.
Early season predictions
All of the so-called experts predicted the Ottawa Senators to either finish dead last or 14th in the Eastern Conference. Even yours truly didn’t think they would make it to the playoffs, however after seeing how well they played in the second half of the season and then watching a bunch of the younger players win the Calder Cup in Binghamton, I thought the Senators would finish 9th or 10th and out of the playoffs.
This team fought for the playoffs all season long, despite receiving no respect, eventually earning the playoff position. Bryan Murray came up with a three-year plan last season, and the team looks way ahead of where he thought they’d be after the first year, so the future looks bright.
Mix of veterans and young players
This year’s mix of veterans and younger players has worked. Led by veterans Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson up front and Chris Phillips and Philip Kuba on the blue line the Senators younger players have responded.
The Senators started this season with 10 players who played in the American Hockey League last season. With a lack of experience it was not surprise that people over looked them. However, young players like Colin Greening, Zack Smith and Erik Condra have matured and played great, not to mention Jared Cowen on the back-end.
In total the Senators used 14 players who were either rookies in the NHL or had played in the AHL last season.
Bryan Murray’s moves
Some of the credit for the quick turn around in Ottawa was the dealings of Bryan Murray. Murray traded for centre Kyle Turris who has filled a void as the Senators number two centre. Turris has proven to be a strong two-way player and has meshed with Daniel Alfredsson to not only give the Senators a solid second line, but a responsible one too that plays well at both ends of the ice.
Murray then gave up a second round draft pick for goaltender Ben Bishop who filled in admirably for the Senators during the injury to starting goaltender Craig Anderson, who was a late season acquisition by Murray last year. Anderson has proven to be a top quality goaltender here in Ottawa.
The Senators organization have a wealth of talent in the AHL and in the Swedish elite league waiting to jump into the lineup over the next 2-3 years.
The biggest influence
Perhaps the biggest influence on the Senators this season is their coach Paul MacLean. MacLean, is a former NHL’er who knows how to win in the big league. He can relate to the NHL players, having played for a number of seasons and his coaching experience as an assistant in Detroit during a couple of Stanley Cup has only cemented his experience.
Level headed, MacLean is a teacher and he is always seen teaching the game to his players, never afraid to break out a board to explain his point. He has earned the respect of the veteran player’s and has done a great job teaching the younger players. The surprise finish in the standings, should have MacLean up for coach of the year honours.
First round opponent
The Senators can still move up or down in the standings. Just four points behind the New Jersey Devils and a season ending game in New Jersey, Ottawa has an outside chance of catching the Devils, especially considering that they own the tie breaker. However, it’s looking more and more like the Senators are going to play the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.