by SENShobo on 10/19/10 at 12:13 PM ET
After being tied for the league lead in bench minors in 2009-10 in with 13, the Senators committed their second too-many-men sin of the season before the midway mark of the opening period. Having already killed off an earlier penalty, Ottawa could not survive this one. Mark Letestu’s goal was the first of three unanswered in a 6:23 span. The Senators could never recover, ultimately dropping a 5-2 decision to the Penguins.
Teenage rookie Robin Lehner made his second NHL appearance after the Penguins went up 5-1 at 10:32 of the second period, but Brian Elliot was not to blame for the predicament the Senators were in at that point. He had only stopped 17-of-22, but the last two to beat him were of the unfortunate variety and came 25 seconds apart.
The first, by Pascal Dupuis, went in off Erik Karlsson’s stick after an initial point shot went off Sergei Gonchar. The play might have been stopped before that had Alex Kovalev taken Crosby out rather than his fly-by. The goal that chased Elliott was a slap shot from the point that deflected off the stick of Jarkko Ruutu in the high slot area.
Lehner wound up stopping all seven shots he faced, likely creating legions to suggest he get the start against the Sabres.
It’s not the end of the season, but at this point, for being last in the League and so many other signs, Ottawa should be thinking about it’s long term game plan, and owning up to the uncomfortable truth of their situation.
That Ottawa once again took a too many men on the ice penalty after leading the League last year makes one wonder how much they have learned since their latest humbling post-season. Allowing Pittsburgh to take 17 first period shots, and handing them three first period power plays (they capitalized on two), the Senators are still failing to come out of the gate with any sustained effort. Given how the Flyers have shown that every point counts, using a season-ending shootout win to make the playoffs and carry through to the Finals, the Senators can no longer afford to wait until game’s end to lay on the pressure.
On the positive side, the Senators have raised their power play from 5% up to 8.3% thanks to Alfredsson’s first goal of the season, the shutdown tandem of Phillips and Carkner was +1 on the night, and Lehner faced another seven NHL shots in just under 30 minutes of play, upgrading his hold on the League lead for save percentage (1.000) and goals against average (0.00) from ridiculous fluke to dubious status.
Sense should not have the Senators here, even as it shouldn’t have them reversing places with the Leafs’ current record. They are in the middle of the pack in nearly every category, but the one key exception is that only the Devils (1.67) have scored fewer goals per game than the Senators (2.00, tied with four other teams). For 27.8 shots per game, and with a League average save percentage of .911, the Senators should have 2.47 goals per game, but they just can’t find the scoring. Time and time again, golden opportunities are missed by every player.
For the Senators, it will be time for an internal gut check. It may be that Murray and Melnyk finally agree that first and second round draft picks cannot be traded away for deadline acquisitions that have gotten the Senators an average of 0.67 playoff appearances and wins since their Cup Finals appearance.
That dreaded window for success has gone from wide open in the early part of the 2000s, to all but closed.
Unfortunately for the Senators, retooling is no easy task. Many Senators have either no movement or no trade clauses, or are simply average enough to not gain much at the deadline or before a draft, the disadvantage of a more evenly spread payroll. The Senators elected to hold on to Volchenkov last season, while adding Cullen and Sutton. The team went 8-8-2 after the deadline, and fell in the first round; little good it did them to forgo the potential assets.
Could the Senators still find a magical season in them, the way the Flyers did? Perhaps, but there is no Pronger on the back end, no solid blue line corps and forward scoring depth that the Flyers had, and no goaltender has been able to step up to the level that the Flyers were fortunate enough to have.
There is still talent in the pipeline, players who could pan out quite nicely with proper development, and serve the organization well in the future. But while I won’t bid the playoffs adieu, I think it is finally time to acknowledge that the window on Conference and Division titles is over. You can blame Muckler for choosing Redden over Chara and poor drafting. You can hate Heatley for leaving, forcing Ottawa to take on Cheechoo’s burden, a never going to replace Heatley player in Michalek, and putting pressure on Murray (along with Melnyk) to sign the ultimate burden thus far in Kovalev.
But only Steve Yzerman has been able to captain and lead a hardworking squad to true perennial contender status, and Detroit wisely backed out of trading him to Ottawa for Yashin.
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