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The NHL is a league full of fluctuation between playoff teams and playoff hopefuls. Last season, five new teams earned a post-season birth (two in the east). With patience running thin, and expectations continuously rising, the Ottawa Senators are fixated on becoming one of these teams next year. But for the Sens to get into the playoffs, another team needs to fall out of the race. In this article, I will be looking at some of this past year’s playoff teams that I believe the Sens are capable of surpassing.
Comparing The Sens And Bruins
The first team that I think the Sens are capable of catching is the President Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. This seems to have been a conversation at the beginning of the last few seasons, with many fans believing the Bruin’s aging core is running out of gas. Well, now the Bruins will no longer have the services of Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci (likely). Factor in the notable players they lost in free agency (Orlov, Clifton, Bertuzzi, Hall, Hathaway), and the Bruins should take a big step backward next season.
The biggest weakness going into this season for the Bruins will be their centre depth. As the roster looks right now, Pavel Zacha will be the team’s #1 centre, followed by Charlie Coyle, Morgan Geekie, and Patrick Brown. Unless these players take some huge steps in terms of their production next season, the Bruins will be far behind the Senator’s centre talents. As for the rest of the forwards, they will be relying heavily on Pastrnak, Marchand, and to a lesser extent DeBrusk to provide most of the offence.
The blue line is still a strong spot for the Bruins with McAvoy, Carlo, Grzelcyk, and Lindholm rounding out the top 4. This top 4 is very close to Ottawa’s in terms of skill level, but I still believe that the Senators slightly edge them out (when healthy). The bottom pair of the Senators is also stronger on paper than the Bruins with Erik Brannstrom and JBD/Hamonic over Shattenkirk and Forbort/Zboril.
Goaltending has to go to the Boston Bruins by a large margin. Both Swayman and Ullmark would be the starting goaltender of the Ottawa Senators. This is where the real question rises with the Senators vs the Bruins. If Ottawa can get solid goaltending from Korpisalo and Forsberg, I believe they will pass Boston. If not, things will be very tight and could easily go in favour of the Bruins.
Comparing The Sens and Panthers
Well to begin, we have discussed the Senators outperforming last season’s President Trophy winners and now the Eastern Conference Champions, the Florida Panthers. The NHL is truly the most unpredictable league of all the major sports. The Panthers are an interesting team to look at. On one hand, they just played for the Stanley Cup, and on the other, they barely made the playoffs.
The forward core for the Panthers is very strong, with guys like Tkachuk, Barkov, Verhaeghe, Bennet, Reinhart, Rodrigues, Luostarinen, etc. I would say that they are ahead of Ottawa in this regard, although not by a landslide. It is expected that some players will be missing the start of this season after battling through injuries in the playoffs. If guys like Tkachuk or Bennet are out for an extended period, the Senators could take advantage.
The defence for the Panthers is quite strong when they are healthy. But as I discussed, some key guys could be out to start the season after suffering some serious injuries in the post-season. The greatest example of this is Aaron Ekblad who is expected to miss training camp. You never want to wish injuries onto other players, but the Senators could take advantage of the thinner Panther’s blue line.
The goaltending for the Panthers is another big question mark. Their season will rely heavily on which version of Sergei Bobrovsky they end up getting. If Bobrovsky doesn’t bring his playoff performance into this season, the Panthers will struggle to repeat their success.
Comparing The Sens To The Islanders
The final team that I will be discussing today is the New York Islanders. This is a slightly different situation compared to the Bruins and Panthers as the Islanders play in the Metro. In this scenario, Ottawa would be a wildcard team (which is where I believe they will end up).
When comparing forward cores, I believe Ottawa has a much stronger top 6 than the Islanders. The Islanders have some great forwards with Horvat, Barzal, Lee, and Nelson, but having guys like Palmieri, Engvall, and/or Fasching in the top 6 will not cut it. The Islander’s forward group is also full of players who are likely to continue regressing next season. Palmieri (32), Lee (33), Cizikas (32), Clutterbuck (35), and Martin (34) have all begun to decline over the past couple of seasons.
The defence for the Islanders is respectable, although I would take the Senators over them quite confidently. The top-end talent of the Senator’s blue line overshadows that of the Islanders. If Jake Sanderson takes another big step next season, the Senator’s defence will leap well ahead of the Islander’s.
Goaltending for the Islanders, like for the Bruins, is well ahead of the Senators. Ilya Sorokin is one of the absolute best goaltenders in the NHL, and if the Islanders have any chance of making the playoffs, he will need to stand on his head. But as I said earlier, if the Sens get quality goaltending, I don’t believe Sorokin will be enough to keep the Islanders ahead of Ottawa.
Should We Expect Ottawa Senators Playoff Hockey
I have said it once, and I’ll say it again, this is the year we will see Ottawa Senators playoff hockey. Can the Sens finish ahead of these teams? Absolutely! However, whether or not they do is in their hands. The Senators need to go into this season with the mindset of finishing ahead of every other team in the NHL. The team controls their destiny, and their only goal should be to compete for the Stanley Cup. Is this the most realistic goal? No, but as the Florida Panthers showed everybody this season, just get in and anything can happen.