Member Feature: Are the playoffs still a possibility for the 2021 Senators?

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Prior to the start of the 2021 NHL season, the Ottawa Senators were seen by many as the “underdog team” in a ferocious Scotia North Division. The Sens over the past few years – despite lacking a plethora of elite talent at the NHL level, seemed to pride themselves on their hard work and relentless pursuit of the puck in all three zones. Realistically speaking, nobody truly expected the young Senators to make the playoffs this season, but some saw them as an underdog or dark-horse to potentially steal the 4th seed, assuming everything fell as they planned.

We can all agree that starting the season with a record of 1-8-1 was definitely NOT in the teams’ plans.

Nothing seemed to be going right in the 613. We saw underperformances from players with high expectations, questionable coaching decisions, as well as a lack of overall effort from many players during that 10-game span.

So, what exactly has changed? Could the Sens still realistically make the playoffs this season? What about in the near future?

Well, let’s waste no more time as we delve deep into the Ottawa Senators’ playoff projections.


‘21 Woes

As stated previously, the Senators struggled mightily to generate much of anything through their first 10 games. This terrible stretch seemed to be the dagger in the back of their playoff hopes for the 2021 season. I mentioned 3 key areas where the Sens struggled during this span: underperformances, questionable coaching decisions, and a lack of overall effort.

What better way to debut the “underperformances” segment than with the player who made his Sens debut in net this season? Matt Murray was arguably the player that underperformed expectations the most during this span, rocking a save percentage around .850% at the time. Thomas Chabot was another player who Sens fans expected to hit the ground running in 2021, yet he was exceptionally bad in his own end and looked shaky at best in the neutral and offensive zones. Evgenii Dadonov, Christian Wolanin, Artem Anisimov, Chris Tierney, among others, all struggled to produce or perform at an adequate level during this time

Many fans were questioning D.J. Smith’s decision-making abilities during this time. The current head coach of the Senators infamously made the decision to scratch Colin White for Artem Anisimov, who he had singled out previously for his “excellent play in training camp.” This would prove to be the wrong decision, as Anisimov was nothing short of a liability during this stretch, meanwhile Colin White looked much better after finally working his way into the lineup.

Special teams were another aspect of the Sens being questioned around this time – mainly the decision to place forwards Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan on the powerplay, as they seemed to be two of the least capable offensive players in Ottawa’s forward corps. I could go on about D.J.’s questionable decisions all day, however we’ll cut it there for the sake of this article potentially being too long.

As previously stated, the Ottawa Senators lacked collective effort during this 10-game span. They looked sloppy, most players refused to chase pucks with aggression, the term “back checking” was not in their vocabulary at this time, heck, even our goalies were allowing easily stoppable pucks through and into the back of the net at the time.


So, what has changed?

Well, it didn’t exactly happen overnight, but over the month of February, the Ottawa Senators proved to be a near-polar opposite version of their previous selves. They were demonstrating a higher level of effort, Matt Murray has vastly improved his game, going from consistently bad to being excellent every second start, players such as Drake Batherson and Erik Brännström have begun to truly break out into promising young players, with Batherson being snake-bitten to start the season, as well as D.J. Smith reportedly not being a fan of Brännström’s overall game at the start of the year, leading his 2021 Sens debut to be delayed for the time being.

Thomas Chabot has exited his slump and has looked much better offensively (however still looking rough defensively, but that’s nothing new), Josh Norris and Tim Stützle have continued to play well despite some defensive shortcomings from Jimmy, Ryan Dzingel and Artem Zub have looked phenomenal so far despite the small sample size with Zinger, and man, Brady Tkachuk has truly emerged as the leader and driving force of this team. He almost never takes a shift off, he’s looked nothing short of excellent thus far, and in my mind will undoubtedly dawn the “C” starting next season.

The boys have really begun to form chemistry with each other, with Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris forming the “Chuck-Norris” line, Nick Paul, Colin White and Evgenii Dadonov continue to impress, I don’t see the “PWD” line going anywhere anytime soon, and how about the “Mannheim-Maritime” combination with Tim Stützle and Drake Batherson?

The defense corps has yet to form any real chemistry as it’s being shuffled around more than any other part of our team, we’ll touch on that more in a minute. In the meantime, Sens fans should look forward to the continuation of the Chabot-Zub pairing, which made its debut in the 7-3 loss against Calgary this past Thursday.


Are the playoffs still possible this season?

Well, for my short answer – probably not.

The Senators currently sit 7th in the Scotia North Division, trailing the Canadiens by 9 points, the Flames by 7, and the Canucks by 5. Ottawa currently has one game in hand on Vancouver, however, Calgary has two in hand on the Sens, and Montréal has a whopping four total games in hand over Ottawa.

It wouldn’t be impossible for the Senators to surpass those teams, but we would need a Hamburglar-esque run to finish the season if we hope to see any playoff action in 2021. However, there will always be silver linings, as the conclusion of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks season could see the likes of Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker making their way to the show to close out Ottawa’s 2021 campaign.

Not only will this be an exciting sight to see for fans, but it is yet another opportunity for these promising prospects to mesh with the team and build chemistry, as well as learn about D.J. Smith’s system, with no pressure or expectations for a late playoff push, providing we don’t run into Andrew Hammond’s second cousin or something of the sort.


How do our odds look going into the future?

Assuming everything returns to normal for the 2021-2022 season, the Ottawa Senators would be returning to the Atlantic Division, featuring the likes of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montréal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, and of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the continued development of Ottawa’s young corps, sneaking into a wildcard spot next season wouldn’t be out of the question. No matter how good we do, I don’t see us topping the Lightning or the Leafs, and barring an unexpected collapse, you could definitely add the Bruins to that list. I truly believe we should be able to overcome the Sabres and Red Wings next season, finishing any lower than 6th in the Atlantic would be a disappointment.

We can most likely expect the Sens to be a playoff team once we reach the 2022-23 season. By that time, we should see much more experienced versions of Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, Erik Brännström and more, meanwhile, players such as Jacob Bernard-Docker, Shane Pinto, Jake Sanderson, and possibly even our 2021 1st round pick, depending on who we select, will likely all make their ways onto the team and begin making individual impacts by 2022-23.

Needless to say, the future’s looking extremely bright in the nation’s capital. While the current playoff picture may not be looking too hot, we still have plenty to look forward to this season. We will be in contention sooner rather than later. In the meantime, let’s take the time to enjoy and appreciate how young and exciting our team currently is!

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Nathan Leger

    Thanks John, much appreciated! I look forward to submitting more in the future 🙂

  2. John Harder

    Hey man, love the realistic but still positive approach! I like the writing style as well!

    1. Nathan Leger

      Thanks John, much appreciated! I look forward to submitting more in the future 🙂

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