After an unceremonious first round exit in the 2010 playoffs, the Ottawa Senators hope to find some consistency as the new season begins. They dealt with more than their fair share of injuries a year ago and somehow managed to make the playoffs despite a curious pair of goaltenders, but will they have enough to make a return trip in 2011?
We make an attempt to answer that question, as well as several others, with help from Peter Raaymakers, our Senators blogger at Silver Seven.
1. Can Ottawa's goaltenders offer the consistency necessary for the team to excel?
Peter Raaymakers: Goaltending controversies are a recurring theme in Ottawa, and this season is no different. Can Pascal Leclaire play like he did at the end of last season--in essence, can he play like the goaltender he was expected to be when acquired? If not, can Brian Elliott avoid the weak goals that so deflated his teammates in the past? And if the answer to both of those questions is no, can owner Eugene Melnyk stomach giving either of Mike Brodeur or Robin Lehner an opportunity to show what they can do in net? I'm not sure I can answer that, but given that they're both in contract seasons, Leclaire and Elliott both have as much to gain (or lose) by playing well as the Senators organization itself.
2. Is Ottawa's defense defensive enough?
PR: With Sergei Gonchar and Brian Lee, without Anton Volchenkov or Andy Sutton; this is going to be a different year for the Senators. Gonchar, should he stay healthy (more on that later), should be able to provide enough offence to make up for the lost defence of Volchenkov and Sutton, but how will Ottawa's penalty kill fare? Chris Phillips will be the biggest part of it, and Matt Carkner will be asked to step up big-time, but asking for big things on the PK from Filip Kuba (when he gets healthy again), Chris Campoli, Brian Lee, Jared Cowen, Eric Gryba, or David Hale might be a bit much.
3. Are the Senators over their injury problems?
PR: Plenty of Ottawa Senators underwent surgery this past off-season, and even more missed time last season with various injuries. Gonchar, Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Filip Kuba... Ottawa lost plenty of man-games to injury last season. It will not be easy to keep rolling if too many of these guys have extended absences this season.
4. Is Ottawa's core too old?
PR: That Alfredsson is getting older is no secret. Although Spezza is assuming a bigger leadership role, this is still Alfredsson's team. And on the blue line, Gonchar will lead, and he's almost as old as Alfie. Then there's Kovalev, who's getting up there in years, too. Will their offensive production tail off considerably? I don't think so, but time will tell.
5. How will the Binghamton Senators do this season?
PR: Maybe not an Ottawa Senators question, but one that will certainly affect the team in the near future is how the Binghamton Senators do this season. The team's hugely different from last year, with a lot more Senators prospects signed to contracts and brought into the system from college, Europe, or major junior--and a very young team as a result. So how well they do together will be huge for the future of the organization, and the hope is obviously that a leadership core can establish itself in Binghamton and move into Ottawa similar to what happened during the mid 2000s with Spezza, Ray Emery, Chris Kelly, and Antoine Vermette--among others--developing into NHLers together.
For more on the Senators, check out Silver Seven.