In case you haven't noticed, the Senators are for real
With the strongest roster they've had in years — and without much fanfare — they're on pace for their best regular-season record since 2007
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A little over a week ago, on trade-deadline day, Senators head coach Guy Boucher said he felt “like a kid under a Christmas tree.” Finally, he had what he wanted up front.
Having acquired wingers Alex Burrows and Viktor Stalberg, the team that had been a playoff dark horse through February was now a serious threat, primed for a deep post-season run.
Sure enough, the Senators have gone 5-0 since the trades. And the new guys have been key contributors, combining for five goals and seven points.
As important as their points, though, is the balance that their presence provides. It’s a chain-reaction effect: Burrows’s insertion into the top six pushes the speedy, skilled Ryan Dzingel down to the third line; Stalberg’s presence on the fourth line gives Boucher the confidence he previously lacked to send that unit out on regular shift; the absence of an obviously weaker line means all the forwards are newly incentivized to compete with each other.
This is good. Especially when the lineup is now so deep that they can walk through the Dallas Stars with ease, as they did on Wednesday night, without No. 1 centre Kyle Turris, who is nursing an injured finger but should return to the ice after the team’s three-game road trip.
The 2016-17 stretch-drive collection of Sens forwards is the best since 2012-13, the lockout-shortened year that ended with the team losing to Pittsburgh in the second round. In fact, this group might be better.
They’re definitely different. They don’t necessarily dominate opponents’ ends; their identity has been forged, principally, in the neutral and defensive zones. The players’ compliance with Boucher’s vaunted system is one of the main explanations for their great record against the league’s premier teams. In the late stages of the campaign, the Senators’ mix of dependable defence and sneakily dangerous offence is leaving their adversaries searching for answers.
And they’re about to get even more help. In the coming weeks, Bobby Ryan is likely to rejoin the squad in time to get his legs back for the playoffs and to set off another chain reaction: another upgrade; another depth player pushed out; another reason for the other 11 forwards to be at their competitive best.
This is the most complete, well-rounded team we’ve seen in Ottawa in years. It’s not so crazy anymore to think the Senators could win a couple rounds come mid-April.
Looking ahead, even if they stumble to a middling 8-8 record over their remaining 16 games, they’ll finish with 46 wins — the most since 2007, when, I scarcely need to remind you, the franchise made it to its only Stanley Cup Final.
Callum Fraser works for TSN 1200, writes for SB Nation’s Silver Seven and hosts local hockey radio show and podcast The Battle of Ontario. You can find him on Twitter: @CallumFraser18.