When the NHL’s ridiculously unnecessary lockout ends in late December, or perhaps early January, teams will be expected to hit the ground running.
With a shorter than usual training camp and a condensed schedule, the Ottawa Senators are going to need to start strong if they want to stay in the mix in the Eastern Conference. In what will likely be a season of less than 50 games, any extended slump would essentially end their playoff hopes.
Now I realize this may seem a little far-fetched to those of you that feel the season is lost but I really do feel like ultimately, cooler heads will prevail. The two sides got too close to let it all fall apart now. There will be NHL hockey this year. There has to be. Right?!
With that in mind, a few thoughts on the Ottawa Senators in a shortened season…
- Jared Cowen's hip surgery means he's lost for the entire season and his absence leaves a significant hole on the Sens blue line. While there are young guys hoping to fill that spot, MacLean won’t have the luxury of letting a rookie defender adjust on the fly. The Sens will go with the hot hand here which means Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit, who have both looked good in Bingo, should push for spots. Karlsson, Phillips, Gonchar, Methot and Lundin are the locks. Someone will need to step up and fill the 6th and maybe 7th positions.
- The “riding the hot hand” approach applies to goaltending too. Craig Anderson is still this team’s starting goalie but he’ll have some rust to shake off after such a long break. Meanwhile, Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop have both played extremely well on the farm. If Anderson struggles out of the gate, MacLean will not hesitate to go with one of Lehner or Bishop.
- Mika Zibanejad’s name always comes up as a guy that could push for a spot with the big club. I still think that’s true but I’m just not sure it happens in a short season. Zibanejad has had his issues adjusting to the North American game and has missed a significant amount of time with injuries. If the Senators are looking to a young guy to fill a spot in their top six, it’s far more likely Jakob Silfverberg steps up. He has looked good in Bingo so far.
- The good news for Sens fans is the team’s top players have been staying sharp in Europe and should have no problem getting up to NHL game speed. Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and Milan Michalek will be expected to carry the offence over a shortened season and all have performed well during stints in Europe.
- Injuries are going to be a factor across the NHL. With a shortened camp, players will be expected to get into top physical condition a lot faster than usual. This is where the strong start in Binghamton helps the organization in a big way. Luke Richardson has that team playing some solid hockey right now and you can bet there are a number of guys that will be ready to answer the call, should a regular go down with an injury.
- Oh and the first home game at Scotiabank Place- I’ll be there. I understand fans that will take a stand and stay away from SBP for a while but that really feels like misdirected anger to me. The Senators didn’t cause this lockout. The NHL did. The Senators aren’t a poorly run operation. The NHL is. The Senators don’t continue to disrespect their fans. The NHL does. While I fully respect the decision to stay away from NHL hockey games during a shortened season, it won;t be my approach. See ya at the Bank in January!