The way the Sabres season has played out has been a surprise to many of us. We didn’t think they’d hit March scratching and clawing trying to beat out the rest of the pack for the 8th and final playoff spot. Tonight’s opponent has been a surprise as well but for good reasons, not bad.
Coming off a last place finish in the Northeast Division last season and their lowest point total in 15 years, the Ottawa Senators were picked by many in the pre-season predictions to be in play for the worst record in the conference. They had missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, had seen their head coach fired for the third time in four seasons, were saddled with a goals against average that was 24th last season and had scored the second fewest goals in the NHL.
Leading up to last year’s trade deadline, General Manager Bryan Murray was a seller, moving veterans Chris Kelly, Mike Fisher and Jarkko Ruutu for draft picks in three separate deals. There were rumors the Senators would move star center Jason Spezza but they hung on to him and hoped he would be the center piece of their rebuilding efforts.
Ottawa is much further along than what was anticipated. The Senators have already passed their point total from last season, will make the playoffs barring a big time collapse and their new coach, Paul McLean should get consideration for the Jack Adams Trophy.
The veteran players are doing their job. Spezza is averaging more than a point a game. Daniel Alfredsson has his 13th season of at least 20 goals. Milan Michalek has a career best 29 goals. But a number of young guys have provided a spark as well.
Third year defensemen Erik Karlsson could be in the mix for the Norris Trophy. Fellow blue liner Jared Cowen, who is in his first full NHL season, has become a shut down defenseman. Among the forwards, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler, Eric Kondra and Colin Greening are all playing in their first full NHL season and contributing.
Certainly making the playoffs will be progress for a pretty young team but they can take a big step if they can win a playoff series. The Senators haven’t done that since advancing to the Cup Finals in 2007.