5 Questions for the Senators

Edmonton's Tom Gilbert is harassed by Ottawa's Stephane Da Costa during the Edmonton Oilers NHL...

Edmonton's Tom Gilbert is harassed by Ottawa's Stephane Da Costa during the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators at Rexall Place in Edmonton on November 17, 2011. The Senators won 5-2. (CODIE MCLACHLAN/ QMI AGENCY)

Bruce Garrioch, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:22 PM ET

VANCOUVER - The Senators were able to raise a toast to themselves as they sat down at a fancy eatery Friday night for their annual rookie dinner.

They can’t rest on their laurels with a difficult test against the Vancouver Canucks Sunday at GM Place, but the Senators can feel good about the fact they’re one game above .500 — at 10-9-1 — and sitting in a playoff spot at the quarter mark.

“What I like is that we’re starting to play consistent hockey now and we’re not giving up the scoring chances that we gave up early on, we’re getting people getting to the net and we look like we’re having fun,” said GM Bryan Murray Friday.

Winning is fun for everyone.

FIVE QUESTIONS

No. 1: Can the Senators remain a playoff contender?

Nobody in the hockey world expected the Senators to be in a playoff position, especially after they got blown out twice on home ice — by Colorado (7-1) and Philly (7-2) in October.

Winger Milan Michalek has led the charge with a team-leading 12 goals. He’s healthy, he’s happy and has a good connection with C Jason Spezza. They aren’t alone. The Senators are complementing each other with significant contributions from all lines.

“It looks to me like there’s good chemistry on the team and that grows into something better,” said Murray. “I hope that it grows into wins for us.”

No. 2: Is the sky the limit for Erik Karlsson?

Karlsson is tied for the league lead in assists, with 17, and has 18 points. He looks like he’s going to shatter the franchise record for points by a defenceman, which was set by Norm Maciver’s 63 in the inaugural 1992-93 campaign.

It just doesn’t look like there’s any stopping Karlsson from having another all-star season. He heads into the game against the Canucks on a five-game point streak.

“Erik Karlsson can be as good as he wants to be,” said coach Paul MacLean Friday. “He can do an awful lot of things: He has great speed and his vision.”

No. 3: Is Craig Anderson rounding into form?

The Senators goalie doesn’t have the most sparkling numbers — with an .895 save percentage and 3.25 GAA.

But he is showing signs of improvement. He’s only allowed five goals during the club’s three-game winning streak and has been a big reason the Senators have been able to stay in the playoff hunt. He has backstopped nine of the club’s 10 wins.

“He’s been a really important part of our game,” said MacLean. “Early in the season, he struggled with our learning curve. We didn’t help him a couple of nights and I think his numbers are little skewed by those touchdowns we gave up (to Colorado and (Philly). In the last 10 or 15 games, he’s been a leader and given us confidence.”

4. Do the Senators need a second-line centre?

A startling stat from Thursday’s 5-2 victory over Edmonton was the fact Stephane Da Costa won just 1-of-15 faceoffs.

Being a centre requires a lot more than winning faceoffs, but it’s a sign the 21-year-old Merrimack graduate has been thrust into a role that might be a little bit too much for his first year and he may be better off with less ice time.

The Senators signed Da Costa because they wanted him to grow with the organization. This is still a rebuild and that means living with growing pains. Don’t expect the Senators to rush out to get help, but if they stay in a playoff spot, they may be tempted.

No. 5: What happens when Matt Carkner returns?

The Senators will have eight healthy defencemen when Carkner is ready to come back from a knee injury that hasn’t allowed him to suit up yet this season.

You can expect the Senators are going to make a trade at some point and they won’t let rookie David Rundblad sit much longer. In fact, once Carkner is ready to return, don’t be surprised if the Swede is sent to Binghamton.

There are a lot of teams looking for blueliners, but not many have shown interest in top trade targets Filip Kuba and Brian Lee. Kuba is playing the best hockey of his Ottawa career and it’s no coincidence he’ll be a UFA July 1.

There will have to be moves here.  


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