• By: Dave Gross

Ottawa Senators Legitimate Eastern Conference Favourite

SENATORS: A Week in Review is a weekly column looking back at the week in Ottawa Senators hockey written by OLMSports Dave Gross.

Feature Photo NHLI via Getty Images

This column and space is definitely not about fluffing the pillows for the Ottawa Senators.

So when we write the following: The Ottawa Senators are a legitimate Eastern Conference favourite, you can – in the words of Baretta – take 'dat to the bank.

There is no bias here and no pom-pom waving (in fact, many out there claim this writer is a closet Toronto Maple Leaf fan . . .  can you imagine).

Fact is, if the playoffs go according to script, Ottawa could see itself on the way back to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 10 years.

So how, and why did this develop?

There are a number of factors at work.

1) Coach of the year candidate Guy Boucher: Boucher has created an atmosphere of structure and reliability. This (relatively) same roster looked like Jell-O on a plate on a roller-coaster the last few seasons. On any given night, Ottawa fan was unsure whether his/her team would slide off the rails or retain its position until the end of the ride. Somehow and some way, Boucher has the likes of Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson buying into playing defence first. Let's face it, in the last few years the majority of the roster looked at defensive-zone coverage like it was Saturday night homework. Now under Boucher, Karlsson leads the NHL in blocked shots, and he's about 20 ahead of runner-up Ian Cole of Pittsburgh. A remarkable turn of events.

2) Playoff formatting: Ottawa's division is as weak as Molly Ringwald's career. Getting out of the Atlantic should be a cinch. And even if Ottawa finishes first and has to face the likes of the New York Rangers from the Metropolitan (in the kind of bizarre cross-over scenario), I wouldn't be too concerned. New York doesn't have the depth or zip of your Senators. As well, the bulls of the conference, in Pittsburgh and Washington, are likely to face off against each other early on.

3) Deep depth: Yep, throw some roses Pierre Dorion's way. Ottawa's GM took heat for adding 36-year-old Alex Burrows at the deadline while relinquishing a very good prospect and then signing the ancient winger to a two-year extension, but it could not have turned out better – so far. Burrows gives Ottawa some sandpaper and is also laden with talent and character. Dorion also added Viktor Stalberg who provides pro depth and can kick in the odd goal now and then. (It will be interesting to see where Bobby Ryan and Chris Neil fit in once back from injury . . . but anyone could tell you, if you fancy a long playoff run, you'd better be stocked with quality players throughout the lineup).

4) Craig Anderson: After returning from family matters, the taciturn Anderson's picked up from where he started. Quietly he gives the Senators a chance to win every night, especially on the odd (and becoming very odd) occasions when the lads in front of him are lax on defence. Why in the conversations of the "NHL's top goaltenders" Anderson's name isn't even mentioned is baffling.

Heck, we could get rolling with other significant contributors to what makes this team a contender: The way Ottawa's still won with significant injuries; the growth of Karlsson; the under-appreciated sub job by Mike Condon . . . but you get the message.

If I'm anyone else in the Eastern Conference, I'd be smart to pay attention to the message as well

NOTES AND NOTIONS: Had a great time last Saturday guest hosting on 1310NEWS and having Brian Kilrea in studio for the first hour. The coach still maintains that Bobby Smith and Doug Wilson were the best skaters he coached in junior. That is quite the recommendation . . . Killer also had great things to say about Denis Potvin, Corey Locke and two of my favourite junior players: Lance Galbraith and Zenon Konopka . . . When asked who – of his former players – surprised the most by making it to the NHL, Killer without hesitation said Konopka. "Z" certainly had his doubters but in the end proved them wrong . . . Killer will be guesting this weekend with Ron MacLean on Rogers Hometown Hockey, which emanates from the Aberdeen Pavilion.

Wednesday: Ottawa 5, Dallas 2
Thursday: Ottawa 3, Arizona 2 (OT)
Saturday: Ottawa 4, Colorado 2

Tuesday: Tampa Bay at Ottawa (7:30 pm)
Thursday: Chicago at Ottawa (7:30 pm)
Saturday: Montreal at Ottawa (7 pm)
Sunday: Ottawa at Montreal (7:30 pm)