2011 is finally here, the time to make New Year’s resolutions, the time for a fresh start, and hopefully for the Senators, the time to start playing some consistent hockey.
Looking back on the first half of the season, there isn’t a lot for Sens fans to be proud of. But throuaghout all the inconsistency, there were some positives — as well as a good portion of frustrating negatives.
The big questions for the new year are: Where do the Senators go from here and how are they going to do it.
1. Offensive emergence of Erik Karlsson
Karlsson is getting better every time he steps on the ice, his confidence is growing while amazingly other veterans on the Senators blue line are losing theirs. Karlsson’s world-class skill and skating ability are starting to come together nicely. He has a knack for moving the puck out of his zone. While his defensive game needs plenty of work, nobody can deny that Karlsson is going to be an offensive force in the NHL for a long time.
2. Solid play of third line
On a team saddled with heavy minuses, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu are both plus players. Together with Chris Kelly, they have been the Senators’ best line dating back to last season. Kelly has been the club’s best all-around player this season. His solid work ethic is a great example for the club’s younger players.
1. Poor play of blueliners
A group I predicted would play composed, smart and be the strength of the club has been its Achilles heel. The back end has been extremely shaky and way too easy to play against all season. The Sergei Gonchar signing looks horrendous and the usually reliable Filip Kuba has struggled mightily to the point of being scratched against Columbus on New Year’s Eve.
2. Lack of production
At one time, opposing teams knew they were in for a long night at Scotiabank Place. But the Senators’ ability to score, especially at home, has diminished. The list of underachieving forwards is long. When a second-year defenceman — Karlsson — is at or near the top in team scoring, you’ve got big problems offensively.
A lot of blame has been put on the forwards, from Peter Regin to Jason Spezza to Alex Kovalev. But as far as I’m concerned, the lack of offence starts from their defensive play and decision-making in their own end.
The wrong thing to do right now would be to start trading players for the sake of making a trade, unless you could get a solid top-four defencemen under age 27 or a young, goal-scoring forward with huge upside.
Both are next to impossible to acquire right now. But by the Feb. 28 trade deadline, players’ market values will be at season highs.
Older, more experienced defencemen will start looking like must-have hot stocks. Teams like the Senators will be dealing from a position of strength rather than weakness. Bidding wars for veteran defencemen among Cup-hungry teams willing to roll the dice can net first and second-round picks for clubs in Ottawa’s position.
The Senators’ direction will be much clearer come Feb. 28. The club has drafted well since GM Bryan Murray took over, as far as defencemen are concerned, but the forward depth for young offensive prospects is lean.
Come late February, the Senators will have an opportunity to ignite some hope and help retool their offence.
The club’s biggest weakness, its blue line, will have the ability to make that happen.
1. Logan Couture, San Jose: He doesn’t get the “oil” hype because he’s way out on the West Coast, but the former 67 leads all NHL rookies in scoring, to go along with five game-winning goals.
2. John Carlson, Washington: The smooth-skating rookie is already Washington’s best all-around defenceman.
3. Taylor Hall, Edmonton: After a slow start, Hall is starting to catch fire with 12 goals and is already Edmonton’s most exciting player.
4. Jordan Eberle, Edmonton: His hockey IQ is off the charts and his highlight goals for the Oilers are becoming legendary.
5. Jeff Skinner, Carolina: He has outstanding speed and skill. The Hurrcianes forward will challenge for the Calder Trophy.