Ottawa Senators Monthly Report: November
After capping off the month of October with a six-game winning streak, placing them in a tie for sixth place in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators cooled off in November, dropping five straight games before slogging through an arduous six-game road trip. The Sens would emerge in the bottom half of the NHL standings, though they sit just three points out of the league’s top ten as the season passes the quarter-pole – far better than certain analysts prognosticated before the year began.
The defense has gradually began to mesh, with Erik Karlsson asserting himself as one of hockey’s best young defensemen at both ends of the rink. The offensive charge has remained consistent, with the Sens’ 75 goals for placing them sixth in the NHL, above perennial juggernauts Vancouver, Washington and Detroit. While they couldn’t maintain the torrid pace that they held for much of October, Ottawa stood tall in the month of November, proving that they will be no easy out as the race to the postseason begins to gain steam.
Record: 5-5-2. (Currently 12-10-2. 4th in Northeast Division. 8th in Eastern Conference. T-18th in NHL.)
Leading Scorers: (November) – (Total)
Nick Foligno (12 GP: 5 G, 6 A, 11 PTS) – (24: 7-7-14)
Zack Smith (12 GP: 5 G, 4 A, 9 PTS) – (24: 6-8-14)
Erik Karlsson (12 GP: 0 G, 9 A, 9 PTS) – (24: 1-21-22)
Jason Spezza (12 GP: 3 G, 5 A, 8 PTS) – (24: 9-14-23)
Sergei Gonchar (12 GP: 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS) – (23: 2-15-17)
The memories of Ottawa’s late-October win streak would vanish as soon as the calendar turned. On November 1st, the Sens fell victim to the powerhouse Boston Bruins, whose 5-3 victory spurred the defending champions’ turnaround from an early-season skid. Ottawa would fall in two more divisional contests, losing 2-1 to Montreal on Carey Price’s 33 saves, then dropping a 3-2 decision to Buffalo in a shootout. The streak would carry into the next week, with a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on November 9th and a 5-1 blowout at the hands of the Sabres on November 11th, a game in which Craig Anderson was yanked after just 2:25.
The Sens’ last win had come on October 30th against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a rematch with their Ontario rivals proved to be the solution to Ottawa’s woes. After a 5-2 victory at the Air Canada Centre, the Senators embarked on a six-day road swing that saw them visit all three of Western Canada’s NHL teams. They would play their two most complete games of the month in Calgary and Edmonton, throttling the Flames’ anemic offense in a 3-1 victory and outgunning the Oilers’ youngsters in a 5-2 win. The Sens would hang tight against Vancouver, last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, eventually falling 2-1 in overtime.
After five days of rest, Ottawa travelled to Pittsburgh, losing 6-3 in a game that was marred by Sidney Crosby’s elbow to the head of Nick Foligno (after Crosby spent his long layoff from a concussion decrying headshots, no less). Ottawa would rebound two nights later against Carolina, winning 4-3, before capping the month with an entertaining 6-4 victory over Winnipeg behind Anderson’s 39 saves.
Player of the Month
Erik Karlsson continues to play at an assist-per-game pace; his 21 helpers lead the entire league, while his 22 points lead all defensemen. Not only is Karlsson establishing himself as hockey’s best young offensive defensemen, he is refining his game on the defensive end, playing over 25 minutes a night and helping to shut down Phil Kessel, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jeff Skinner in Senators victories. After injuries took down several Ottawa forwards, Nick Foligno burst out offensively in November, leading the club with 11 points and even stepping in as the second-line centre after Stephane Da Costa’s late-month demotion. Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza continue to produce offensively, though not at the same pace as in October.
By any evaluation, however, the Sens’ most important player in the month of November was none other than Zack Smith. After exploding offensively in last year’s Calder Cup playoffs, Smith began to display his offensive touch this month, notching five goals and nine points, including game-winners against Carolina and Winnipeg in Ottawa’s last two wins. A mainstay on the penalty kill, Smith is currently centering Kaspars Daugavins and Erik Condra on one of the league’s most destructive third lines. Along with Foligno, Smith picked up much of the offensive slack when the top two lines were struggling, keying several Sens comebacks and showcasing his potential as a future Chris Kelly-Chris Neil hybrid in Ottawa’s bottom six.
Other Player Trends
Condra and Daugavins continue to impress, particularly on the penalty kill, where they have keyed the Senators’ shorthanded renaissance along with Smith and Jesse Winchester. Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba have both rebounded well after rough 2010-11 seasons, with Gonchar teaming up with Karlsson on the power play and Kuba providing responsible defense. Chris Phillips continues to be solid on the back end, with rookie Jared Cowen showing marked improvement every game.
Colin Greening has slowed considerably after a hot start, while captain Daniel Alfredsson has struggled to establish a rhythm after missing two stretches of games due to injury. Nikita Filatov impressed the Sens brass after a short stint in Binghamton, earning himself another promotion to Ottawa, where he has slowly began to assert himself more on the offensive end. Bobby Butler scored twice in Ottawa’s 3-1 win over Calgary, but has been unable to earn a permanent spot in the team’s top six, with most of his ice time coming on the fourth line.
Goal of the Month
The Senators potted 36 goals in the month of November, equaling their unofficial output from the previous month. (Ottawa won three shootouts in October, giving them 39 total goals for.) A few stood out from the rest of the pack, including Milan Michalek’s individual effort against Buffalo and Erik Condra’s wrister against Pittsburgh. (Michalek’s empty-net goal against Toronto was also considered for the honour, with the caveat that it came off a pinpoint pass from the Maple Leafs’ Clarke MacArthur into his own net.)
Jason Spezza, however, managed to top his teammates with his first marker against Carolina, taking a pass in the neutral zone, slicing through two Hurricane defenders and slipping a forehand past a helpless Cam Ward. The goal came just 55 seconds into the game, and Spezza would later add another to spur the Senators to a 4-3 win.
Game of the Month
Facing off against Edmonton on November 17th, Ottawa overpowered the Oilers’ celebrated band of youngsters, rolling into Rexall Place and emerging with a well-earned 5-2 victory. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle were all held pointless and finished a combined -6, while Nikolai Khabibulin was pulled from the game during the first intermission after allowing three goals on seven shots.
Although the Sens managed just 16 total shots on goal, five different players would score: Colin Greening, Kaspars Daugavins, Milan Michalek, Jesse Winchester and Zenon Konopka. Jason Spezza registered two assists, Erik Karlsson logged over 26 minutes of ice time and Craig Anderson was credited with 22 saves and the win.
After playing 12 games in each of the first two months of the season, Ottawa will compete in 15 over the next 31 days. Unlike November, the Sens’ December schedule will be weighted towards home dates, with just six games taking place away from Scotiabank Place. The key stretch will be the four-game homestand from the 14th to the 22nd, with Boston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Florida coming to visit. The Sens will face off against Buffalo three times in December, with multiple matchups against Washington also on the schedule. The December 27th game against Montreal will highlight the holiday season, with Ottawa sporting their heritage jerseys against their division rivals.
All-Star Game Update
The NHL All-Star Game fan balloting is entering its third week, with fans selecting six of the game’s starters through online voting. With the game taking place on January 29th at Scotiabank Place, the first priority of all Senators fans should be to ensure that Daniel Alfredsson earns his rightful place in the starting lineup, by virtue of placing in the top 3 in votes among forwards. With Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek all performing like worthy All-Stars, the utmost importance should be placed on voting our captain to the All-Star Game in what could be his final NHL season.
Toronto forward Phil Kessel currently leads all forwards with 258,446 votes. Alfredsson is second, with 233,868 votes, and Spezza is third, with 209,455 votes. Karlsson leads all defensemen with 256,839 votes, while Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf is second with 213,617 votes.
I implore all of you, as Sens fans, to go to vote.nhl.com and submit a lineup of Alfredsson-Spezza-Michalek and Karlsson-Gonchar, with Craig Anderson as a write-in candidate in goal. Fans can vote up to 30 times online; they can also vote 30 times on their mobile phone at vote.nhl.com, and 30 times by texting their favourite player’s name to 81812 (this is where Alfredsson would get the sole vote). Voting closes on January 4th. With the All-Star Game at home, it’s the least we can do for our captain, our team and ourselves.