Sens losing their plus-minus touch

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

As the critics of the Ottawa Senators zero in on their most glaring weakness of late -- defence -- many forget such issues shouldn't be placed solely upon the shoulders of six or seven players.

For years, the Senators prided themselves on a strong defensive core, in addition to a significant group of two-way forwards. As cracks have appeared in the facade, a simple glance at plus-minus statistics demonstrates that the blame can be spread around.

Going into last night's game, the top three Senators in plus-minus were Dany Heatley (plus-32), Jason Spezza (plus-22) and Daniel Alfredsson (plus-18). It should also be noted that Heatley was third overall in the league, an impressive feat considering he was out for 11 games with a shoulder injury.

These stats are obviously pleasing, but it's not hard to rack up remarkable plus-minus numbers when you're on the top-scoring line of the top team in the Eastern Conference.

The rest of the Senators forwards don't possess such an airtight alibi. Without looking up the stats, take a guess at which forward has the highest plus-minus rating after Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Give up? It's Randy Robitaille, with a plus-7.

Perplexed? You should be. The Senators' once-powerful two-way forwards seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Take Antoine Vermette and Chris Kelly. Both were lauded last year for their responsible play, particularly on the penalty kill. Vermette was at plus-3 this season before last night's game, while Kelly was at even.

Worse still, both have struggled significantly at home (Vermette with a minus-2; Kelly minus-4).

Other notable players haven't fared much better.

Mike Fisher had an even plus-minus overall (minus-3 at home), while Dean McAmmond was plus-2.

It was much easier to defend the play of Ottawa's secondary scorers when they were regularly shutting down opponents. Even if their offensive totals weren't mind-blowing, many took solace in the fact they added defensive depth to the team.

If the Senators are regarded as a one-line wonder while the other forwards contribute spotty defence and occasional offence, how can this team lay waste to opponents in the playoffs?

Obviously, the Senators must solve problems within their defence -- their play of late has left a lot to be desired. However, the lack of contribution from the secondary scorers on both sides of the puck shouldn't be ignored. It's true that scoring will lead to higher plus-minus totals, but it's a pointless endeavour if you can't help your team keep the puck out of the net when you're on the ice. It appears several Senators are having problems accomplishing either task.

SNEAKY FAN'S GIANT CAPER

How's this for an incredible story: A New York Giants fan, through pure luck and gumption, managed to sneak his way into the press area during the team's Super Bowl celebration this week. But he didn't stop there. The fan boarded one of the Giants' luxury buses, rode it to the stadium, stood on the field with the team, and made it back to the locker room, where he took photos with players and received their autographs -- no credentials and no questions asked (his entire tale including photographs and video is available at Deadspin.com). Apparently NFL security isn't as stringent as we assumed.


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