30 in 15: Ottawa Senators Season Preview
The Ottawa Senators have been on the edge of success for a long time. The Sens have made the playoffs in twelve of the last thirteen seasons, even making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, yet have failed to etch their name on the holy grail of hockey. Last year they were knocked out in the first round by the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. With captain Daniel Alfredsson entering the season in which he will score his 1000th career point, the Senators will attempt to improve on their recent postseason shortcomings and bring the cup to Canada’s capital.
Offense: B The Senators offense has all the tools to put in an average number of goals, however the age of the stars in the Sens top six forwards raises more than a little doubt. Daniel Alfredsson is 37 this year and will try to show the league that he is still an elite forward that can produce despite being slightly more “developed.” Russian Alexei Kovalev, a stick handling wizard, joins Alfredsson in the 35-plus club. Kovalev’s production dropped a little last season, and in a contract year he will be looking to prove to the Senators and potential free agency suitors that he can still make magic on the ice as well as the scoreboard. Jason Spezza is younger than the two other stars up front for the Sens, but he missed 22 games to injury last year and saw his point production drop because of it. Spezza, who is loaded with talent, will try to silence the many critics that come with the territory of the oft burning spotlight of professional Canadian hockey. Supporting scorers Milan Michalek and Mike Fisher will both look to improve on great years and could reach the 60 point plateau if they keep up the good work.
Defense: B- The Ottawa defense is where the biggest change took place this offseason. Blueliner Anton Volchenkov gained a huge following in the past year because of his solid defensive play and his incredible ability to get in shooting lanes and block shots. Unfortunately for the Sens, they lost Volchenkov to his hype this year and were unable to pay the sought after defenseman enough money to stay in Ottawa. The Senators replaced Vochenkov with veteran puck mover Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar has the ability to generate tons of offense for the Sens from the back end, but injuries have left critics wondering if the juice is worth the squeeze on the Russian power play quarterback’s 5.3 million dollar cap hit. Chris Phillips will, as always, provide solid, underrated defense for the Senators. Phillips will have his hands full picking up the slack defensively with Volchenkov missing, and Swedish youngster David Runblad should take advantage of the opportunity to solidify his place on a regular NHL blueline. Chris Campoli and Brian Lee will both look to improve upon last season and show management that they belong.
Goaltending: C+ The weakest link in Ottawa remains the most important position on the ice. Former Columbus Blue Jacket Pascal Leclaire held the starting job for most of last season, yet surrendered it to Brian Elliot near the end of the season. Elliot played lights out in net leading into the playoffs, yet was understandably unable to stifle the Pittsburgh Penguins offense in the first round. Look for both Elliot and Leclaire to battle for the starting position this year, with the loser finding himself out of a job on the first of July.
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