January 14 2011 05:56AM
It isn't often that the Flames get to play a team that is clearly in a worse spot these days, but that opportunity presents itself this evening in Kanata when they meet the Senators. Ottawa is a team going nowhere and likely headed for a teardown, with near term prospects for the Sens appearing a bit bleak. Why does that sound familiar?
Ottawa was already in tough before Jason Spezza got hurt, but their offence was going nowhere even when he was in the lineup. Even with a PP that has been productive when they actually get a chance and a six goal outing last night on the Island, the Sens are second worst at scoring goals, and third worst at EV. Some of that is driven by a poor team SH%, but they've really struggled to get shots on goal over the last couple of years. They're in the bottom ten in EV shots for and against, in fact, which hints at a team that tries to keep things as low-event as possible.
The player that's carried Ottawa over the last several years is Daniel Alfredsson, and he's begun the decline in earnest this year, taking on water against middling comp. Between his slide and Spezza's injury, it's hardly a surprise that the Senators can't throw it in the ocean most evenings. They have almost no depth of scoring at all from their forwards, with only Spezza and Alfredsson reaching the 20 point mark through the mid-point of the season. Players like Fisher, Michalek and Kelly have given them nothing in terms of secondary production and the ageing Alex Kovalev has lived down to his reputation. That contract was about as bad a gamble as any GM has made over the last couple of years.
That leaves the backline to pick up the pieces, and although Karlsson and Gonchar have decent point totals, they've had a time of it at EV. Karlsson is Ottawa's all-star rep, but that's more an indictment of the team than any excellence on his part. Gonchar has had his issues as well, even if his -20 isn't entirely his doing. The two of them do look good when Ottawa is up a man, but since the Sens are wallowing near the bottom of the league in PP attempts there are limits to what they've been able to contribute.
There's also been a fair bit of talk that Brian Murray might start unloading pieces at the deadline, and I don't doubt that Chris Phillips would attract some interest. He'd make a decent 3rd-4th D on a competitive team and he's UFA this summer, which would add to his value in a league where few teams want to commit to extra years when acquiring a player.
As scratchy as Ottawa's skaters have been, their indifference has been matched by equally questionable goaltending most of this season. The Sens' collection of keepers had a .906 5v5 SV% entering last night's affair, which is likely why they've decided to give rookie Robin Lehner some run. Based on what's gone on over the last couple of seasons in the Senator net, I'm not sure there's any downside risk to giving him the chance, although he looked like a standard issue Senators goalie last night in allowing 4 goals on 24 shots.
This really is a game where the Flames should be the better team at EV, but I think we're past the point of expecting anything at all from them in terms of results. The Senators did manage to rouse themselves last night in order to drop half a dozen on the Islanders, so I suppose that it's possible that they've awakened just in time for the Flames' visit. Still, Calgary is a better team than Ottawa, and a loss to the Senators, even on the road, would be another nail in the coffin of a Flames team that's already likely residing amongst the walking dead.