Don’t count these Ottawa Senators out just yet

Don’t count these Ottawa Senators out just yet

Can the Senators make a second-half playoff run in a cutthroat Atlantic Division?  (Getty)

Can the Senators make a second-half playoff run in a cutthroat Atlantic Division? (Getty)

The Ottawa Senators made everyone fall in love with them over the summer. Well, anyone who didn’t support a rival of theirs.

After five seasons of missing the playoffs and acquiring a plethora of top talent through the early rounds of the draft, the Senators decided to break out of the addictive cycle of low expectations and hope for some draft lottery luck. General manager Pierre Dorion nearly signed hometown boy Claude Giroux, stole scoring wing Alex Debrincat from the Blackhawks, and looked to bolster the goaltending by acquiring Cam Talbot.

Everything looked peachy and they were poised to make some noise in the difficult Atlantic Division – a David among the Goliaths known as the Leafs, Lightning and Bruins. Unfortunately, everything fell apart and their expected heroics were thrown away due to their underwhelming play and some key injuries to players like center Josh Norris and defenseman Artem Zub.

Now, before Tuesday’s game against the Jets, the Sens find themselves at the bottom of the division with a record of 14-15-2 and with a total of six players missing from the regular lineup. It’s not really an ideal position to be in, needless to say, but it’s too early to count the Senators out just yet, as this group can still reach their goal of making the playoffs this season. Stop laughing, we’re serious.

The Senators are currently eight points behind the Islanders, who are desperately holding on to the second Wild Card spot in the East. And while it may not be a favorable point gap to overcome, there are some small signs that should point to an increase in production for Ottawa in the second half of the season.

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After all, we are only 31 games in and there is still a lot of time left.

At first glance, it is immediately noticeable how much better the Senators’ goal difference is compared to other bottom teams. The Sens still have a poor minus-1 goal differential, but teams above them in the standings, such as the Canadiens (minus-20) and Red Wings (minus-10) have won more games but overall have not had as much success in score and prevent goals. Ottawa has both scored more and allowed less than both of those teams, which should even out eventually and lead to the Senators winning more games.

Even if you don’t want to just accept the broad brush stroke statistics, or the basic equation of scoring more goals and allowing fewer leads to win games (real Hockey Genius over here), the Senators have, on average, outplayed their opponents.

According to Evolving-Hockey, the Senators hold the edge against their opponents 5-on-5 in shots on goal, shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts and expected goals — all of those metrics are above the 50 percent threshold. The only general stat not working in their favor right now is actual goals.

Even when you look at something as basic as they get more shots on goal than their opponents, it paints a pretty inviting picture for Sens fans. The only teams not currently in a playoff spot that have an advantage in that category are the Flames, Capitals, Panthers and Sabres. All four teams are within four points of a playoff spot, a huge advantage compared to where the Senators are in the standings.

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With all the underlying play still going the Sens way and the need to just score more goals as the obvious answer, there’s good reason to believe this team will soon turn it around with a little more puck luck.

Reinforcements are also on the way. Earlier this month, Norris was back on the ice skating with the team in a non-contact jersey and seems to have fallen recently the precautionary sweater. It makes sense that with his absence, the Senators struggled to score. Losing a 35-goal scorer for all but five games would hurt every single team in this league, not to mention a team that relies on that player more than anyone.

And even without Norris, and more recently Tim Stützle and Mathieu Joseph, the Senators still manage to collect some points because of their overall play. Prior to Sunday’s loss to the Wild, Ottawa had won four straight games and scored a respectable 15 goals during that stretch.

This isn’t just a crappy team full of no-name players trying to overachieve. The Senators have the star power to push themselves beyond what they are seen as right now. Whether they make a playoff run at the end of the season or not, it’s going to be a fun ride nonetheless.

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