How cryptic, eh? I, superfan, am writing about how after 46 games, I can promise that we will fall short of the post-season. It is with a heavy heart that I share these details and please know that I've had many sleepless nights thinking about this (and more to come). I will still watch every minute that I can and cheer on this group until the final buzzer on April 10th against the Slugs. I wish our fate would be more positive, but we're once again looking at a decent draft pick, a long summer, and likely a new General Manager.
Let me add that this isn't an overreaction at losing four in a row this week. This isn't jumping off the bandwagon. I still love this team. I'm just saying that we were in tough to make the playoffs to begin with, and recent indications are that we've dug ourselves into too deep a hole. This is just my pure, honest opinion of this team right now.
Reason #1: The remaining schedule is tougher than the first half.
Not only do we have more road games in this second half, where we really struggle, but we will also be facing tougher opponents. Of the ten games left this month, eight of them are against teams above .500. Five of the seven games in February are against teams above .500, then we play 9 of 14 on the road in March, including a West Coast swing that usually burns us. Road games, stronger opponents, bad news.
Reason #2: We have NOT solved our goaltending issues.
Our 134 goals against is good enough to put us in 22nd in the league, the 2.93 GAA is good for 21st, and worst of all, our .893 save percentage is good for 28th in the NHL. Teams below us in that category - Toronto and Carolina, who sit 14th and 15th in the East. It isn't even so much the number of goals, although that is a problem, it is the type of goals and the timing of the goals. Pascal and Elliott have gone back and forth taking turns giving up back-breaking Gerbage goals. Is this from the struggle of playing goalie in Ottawa? Is it our ruthless media of the dreaded Ottawa Sun? Is it the ineptitude of goaltending coach and fashion diva Eli Wilson? Whatever the reason, goaltending is a major problem. To quote Pynch from the summer: WE CAN'T MAKE THE PLAYOFFS WITHOUT GREAT GOALTENDING FROM PASCAL!!!!!!! Can anyone argue that we're getting great goaltending?
Reason #3: Our top players are missing.
This isn't an excuse, people, it is a reason. We've lost our top line and quite simply, we don't have the depth at forward to fill that gap. Hell, not many teams could do it either. The bottom line is that we are a God awful group without Alfredsson. Winning the first two without him against Montreal and Buffalo was hard work and emotion, but now reality has set in and we're hoping to get him back on Saturday at the earliest. Spezza is still out three weeks and Michalek hasn't set a return from what appears to be a concussion. No team replaces its top three players internally and so we have to suffer through this period with even more AHLers than we already have under normal circumstances. Losing Alfie for any extended period of time means a string of losses for this team, something we can't afford to do in a playoff race.
Reason #4: Our defencemen suck.
Plain and simple, they aren't good. Anybody that was overly optimistic about this group in the summer has hopefully come to realize that we actually lack a top two defenceman. Phillips and Volchenkov are nothing more than a solid 3-4 shutdown pair. They earn their salaries through hard work in their own zone; they'll never win you a game and they'll never lose you a game. Then there is Kuba - he is also a great #3 defenceman. He has cooled off a bit lately and struggles in his own end, but he is at his best when someone else is carrying the load. In Ottawa, that person is...nobody. Alex Picard and Chris Campoli are bottom 5-6 guys on just about every team, including ours. When either has to play 20+ minutes, we're in trouble and we're shallow. They don't appear to have what it takes to get a permanent spot in that top four, which says a lot about just how bad they can be. Erik Karlsson is hanging around and is holding his own fairly well, but also isn't ready for top four minutes. I hope that he continues to build into a very good player, but he'll always be at a disadvantage fighting for pucks in our end. Matt Carkner, who appears to be growing out the shaggy afro, is a real nice story about a minor leaguer that made it with the local pro team. He, too, is a 5-6 guy that is being thrust into more minutes than he should get. Bottom line - not only do we lack a #1 defenceman, I would argue that none of these guys are a top two defenceman. It has been a need here since Chara left and one that has never been addressed.
Reason #5: What have we done since the Cup Finals to make you think otherwise?
Okay, that is just plain Debbie Downer there, but it's true. Since the Finals, we have had a monumental collapse that has only been eclipsed by what the Carolina Hurricanes seem to do every year after having a long playoff run. Bryan Murray was given a Cup finalist and in less than three years, has gone on to win zero playoff games, lose our top scorer, preside over three different coaches (not counting himself as the fourth), fail to land an elite goalie or top defenceman, and continue to parade in local Ottawa guys that may or may not deserve a job in the league. I have been scratching my head at Bryan Murray's tenure here for a long time and I think it is fair to question the direction of this group. For as much flack as Muckler took, Murray seems to get off pretty easy and even gets labelled as a saviour from time to time. I don't think it is out of line to say that we aren't very good anymore, is it? I'm not pitching this as a 'fire Murray' thing at all; I am just tired of people praising him for 'restocking the cupboards'. If he wanted to rebuild, he should have told the organization that we were going through a rebuild. It is clear now that it was necessary, but we're getting into Leafs territory when we start getting mediocre draft picks, no playoff games, and then still sign 35-year olds to multi-million dollar deals.
If he had told us this summer that in light of the Heatley saga, he was going to go get prospects and picks and we were going to push the reset button, I think we would have been okay with that. A bit pissed, but at least we could have saved the $5M on Kovalev, perhaps would have taken a different approach with the Heatley dealings, and focused on trading up in the draft for a top player. Instead, we're going to finish up in 9th or 10th place, be outside the top ten in the draft, and go into the summer with the same cap problems as we have right now. Pessimistic? You bet, but that's just because the Sens have taught me to be this way after the past three years.
Honourable Mention: Our powerplay is a beautiful 30th in the league.
Recap of the five reasons:
1. Tough schedule
3. Key injuries
4. Defensive weaknesses
5. We just aren't that good
I'll sit back and allow you to tell me what a bad fan I am and how I've given up on the prospects too early. Sorry, folks, I just call it like I see it.
Erik Karlsson is a Defenseman, Not a Forward
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