It's hard to know exactly what to expect from the Ottawa Senators this season.
There is still plenty of unknown when it comes to this year's version of the Sens so with just three days to go until we drop the puck on the 20th Anniversary Season, I take a look at some key question heading into the new season.
- Can Jason Spezza build on a strong finish to last season?
Spezza took on more of a leadership role in the back end of last season and was rewarded with an A on his sweater this year. Spezza is going to have to have a big season offensively if this Ottawa team is going to prove doubters wrong.
- How will the team adjust to new head coach, Paul MacLean?
On a team with so many young guys, communication will be key so when Paul MacLean hired this offseason, it had a lot to do with his ability to connect with players. MacLean has said it many times but he wants his team to play an up-tempo, in your face style which will certainly be an adjustment from the approach the Sens used under Clouston.
- Can Mika Zibanejad provide consistent offensive production on the second line?
As an 18 year old, it's hard to expect much from Zibanejad heading into his rookie season. Listening to Bryan Murray yesterday, it sounds like this is more than a nine game audition. The kid has made the team. He is going to get a chance to skate in a top six role and will be a key piece in this team's offence. Zibanejad was strong in the preseason but how will he hold up over the grind of a long NHL-season.
- Can Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar bounce back?
Phillips and Gonchar are both coming off dreadful campaigns and will need to be better if this team is going to surprise. They are both counted on as leaders in the locker room and will be looked up to by the young guys on the Sens blueline. How will they respond?
- Are Jared Cowen and David Rundblad ready to make the jump to the NHL level?
Cowen is going to take a regular shift right off the bat. He looked strong in the preseason and seems ready. There are still questions around Rundblad but to me, he seemed to get stronger as the preseason moved along. How will he adjust to the North American game? Is he ready to take a regular shift at the NHL level or does he end up in the AHL for more seasoning?
- What can Erik Karlsson do for an encore?
For all the uncertainty in the Sens line up, Erik Karlsson seems like a guy they can count on. He is coming off a big season offensively and will be expected to increase his production this year. Still has improvements to make on the defensive side but it remains to be seen just how good can this kid be.
- Can Craig Anderson build off a strong finish to last season?
In the final preseason game against the Bruins, we saw exactly what Craig Anderson is capable of. His is a goalie that can flat out steal a game when he is at his best and he'll have to be for the Sens to compete. How will he respond to the heavy workload that he'll almost certainly be faced with this season. 60 plus games and 30 shots a night is not out of the question.
- How much does Daniel Alfredsson have left in the tank?
I hate thinking about this one but it's a reality with a 38 year old player. Alfredsson looked strong in the preseason and seems to be skating well. I still think Alfie can be a key part of this team's offence but it will be important for Paul MacLean to control his minutes. In an interview with Ian Mendes, Alfie says "I am going to play like this is my last year." Sens fans are faced with the reality that this could be the last season for the face of this franchise.
- Is this team really as bad as people think?
Projected by many to be among the bottom-feeders in the Eastern Conference, the Sens come into this season with fairly low expectations. As the list above shows, there are definitely some question marks heading into this season but are they capable of surprising some people? I certainly think so.
This is just a sampling of the many questions that come to mind when trying to predict what is in store for the Sens in the 2011/2012 season. In just three short days, the Ottawa Senators will begin to answer these questions.