Ottawa Senators: Observations From a Nightmare Start to the Season

Jan 25, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter (20) scores on Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray (30) in the second period at Rogers Arena. Vancouver won 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2021; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Brandon Sutter (20) scores on Ottawa Senators goalie Matt Murray (30) in the second period at Rogers Arena. Vancouver won 7-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports /

Sitting at 1-7-1 in their first 9 games and currently riding an 8-game losing streak, things look bleak in Ottawa

There has been a very minimal amount of positive developments in this young season so far, ladened by rash coaching decisions, disappointing veterans and non-existent goaltending, the Senators look to be playing above their weight scale every game.

The North Division is too Strong

Before the season started there were concerns with how the Senators would fare in the strong Canadian division. All but one team in the division made the playoffs last season and while 24 teams had that honour last season, it still shows a significant gap between the struggling Senators and the rest of the division.

While the Senators lack top-end talent, the rest of the division boasts it in spades and that’s one of the primary reasons why D.J. Smith’s squad allows 4.89 goals/game.

Take a look at the “star” players that run the North Division:

  • Calgary- Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk
  • Edmonton- Connor Mcdavid, Leon Draisaitl (Both top-5 in NHL)
  • Montreal- No real stars, tons of speed which the Senators lack
  • Toronto- Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander
  • Vancouver- Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat
  • Winnipeg- Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers

There’s no way you can expect a team that occasionally ices lineups like this:

While the absence of Thomas Chabot depletes the group, it’s not a talented group to begin with. D.J. Smith’s belief that being “tough to play against” requires you to be big, slow and possess no offensive talent hasn’t been working (surprise, surprise) and when you play in the North Division, an immobile, gritty backend will be exploited.

Dreadful Goaltending

Enter Matt Murray, puck-enter net. I don’t know if you could have drawn up a worse start to the season for the former two-time Stanley Cup Champion, he’s been nearly unplayable. Carrying a 0.849 SV% and a 4.81 GAA in 7 starts, pucks are easily finding ways through Murray.

Murray ranks dead last in GSAA (Goals Saved Above Expected) with a mark of -9.6. The metric takes the average amount of goals a goalie would allow for the number of shots the goaltender has faced, then the number is compared to the actual amount of goals they have surrendered. Murray is allowing 9.6 more goals than what is expected from an “average” goalie.

Not all of the goaltending woes fall on Murray’s play, Marcus Hogberg has been similarly ineffective in his minutes this season, posting a save percentage of 0.845 and a goals-against-average of 4.71. Hogberg’s GSAA is also poor, ranking third last at -5.01.

D.J. Smith even acknowledged the possibility of activating Joey Daccord from the taxi squad in the hopes of sparking the team.

Stubborn Coaching

The biggest development so far this season has been D.J, Smith and it hasn’t been positive. Smith’s willingness to play ineffective, bubble NHL, veterans have had the fanbase up in arms, especially in regards to his treatment of Colin White.

This quote tells a lot about D.J. Smith’s coaching philosophy:

This was in reference to the Senators 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets when Smith blamed “young mistakes” for the team’s loss when veterans were the ones who caused the game to go in that direction. Also, playing to defend rather than trying to score seems like a recipe for disaster and one that Smith backs which is terribly worrisome. He’d rather be in his own zone defending than 200 feet away from their own net, these old-school philosophies won’t help the Senators move forward.

Tkachuk +Norris + Batherson Line

The most exciting line to watch whenever the Senators step on the ice, if there’s a positive to take away from the start of the season, it’s for sure the young trio who make up the first line.

Constantly the best possession drivers in the lineup and production on the scoresheet has been there too:

  • Brady Tkachuk (3G, 4A, 43S)-(57.89 CF%)
  • Josh Norris (2G, 4A, 22S)-(51.81 CF%)
  • Drake Batherson (1G, 4A, 25S)-(52.80 CF%)

Tkachuk ranks 1st on the team with his great CF% (Corsi-for Percentage) while Batherson and Norris sit 7th and 8th respectively.

They also position themselves as the top 3 point producers on the team, amazing to think about since all are under the age of 22.

Nikita Zaitsev

I don’t think anyone prior to the season expected Zaitsev to be one of the more positive players in the Senators lineup, but here we are, Zaitsev has been quite good.

  • 5 assists, -1 rating
  • 55.51 CF%

While these aren’t world-beater numbers, Zaitsev leads all Senators defenceman in points and CF%, for a player who has been ridiculed for those exact metrics, it’s truly extraordinary to see Zaitsev attempt to flip the narrative that surrounds him.

Tim Stützle

While he hasn’t lit up the NHL, Stützle has 2 goals in his first 6 games in the league and looks ready to make a significant impact at the NHL level.

His first career NHL goal was one to remember:

After being stuck with Derek Stepan to begin the season, Stützle is now being tried with more talented, faster linemates who better complement his game and the results have been improving.