Getting to know your enemy: The Ottawa Senators

Justin K. Aller

We wrap up the Atlantic division today, with an excellent preview of the Senators

Welcome to Friday Wilderness. Before you head out for your weekend, take a couple minutes and read todays NHL preview. Mark from Silver Seven Sens really went above and beyond with his preview.

We'll get back to the ice-cream division on Monday, but enjoy your last day of Floreast previews folks.

Offensive threats - Oh, we've got them. Have you heard of this guy Erik Karlsson? I don't want to brag or anything, but he's kind of the best defenseman in the NHL. So why am I listing him as an offensive threat? Because Karlsson is nearly a point-per-game defenseman in the NHL. Karlsson's speed, intelligence, agility, and shot make him a threat from anywhere on the ice. He will not hesitate to lead a breakout up the ice if you give him a lane, as the Montreal Canadiens found out last spring: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztIj-yG-bXY. And that was on one leg. Fully healthy at the start of the year, Karlsson was leading the NHL in shots per game, including forwards. He has acceleration that is simply sick, and lets him choose to jumpstart any play he wants to. Karlsson is a constant threat to turn any rush into an odd-man one, and that's what makes him so dangerous--and what accounts for his gaudy (or glorious, depending on your fandom) point totals.

Jason Spezza - Did you know that in 2011-12, only Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, and Claude Giroux had more points that Jason Spezza? He had 84 in 80 games. He missed most of last season thanks to back surgery, but was on a point-per-game pace through five before going under the knife. Now confirmed to be pain-free, Spezza is poised for a great year. He's the kind of player who excels at taking advantage of the space a player like Karlsson creates. He's also the kind of player that excels with talented linemates--he was in the 90-point range playing with Dany Heatley. His 84-point season was with Milan Michalek and Colin Greening as his primary wingers. This season it will be Mchalek and Bobby Ryan.

Speaking of Bobby Ryan, he's pretty good. One of the beautiful things about Jack Adams-winning head coach Paul MacLean is that he does a good job of putting his players in positions to succeed. That's how Karlsson went from a 45-point, minus-30 season to a 78-point, plus-16 Norris Trophy-winning one. Same thing goes for Spezza. Same thing should be true for Ryan, who's had the seventh-most power play time in Anaheim the past two seasons. That is highly likely to change in Ottawa. Ryan was brought in to score goals; MacLean is going to put him in positions to score goals. Spezza is going to set him up to score goals. Karlsson is going to set him up to score goals. Ryan could not have asked for a better opportunity.

Oh man, I'm not even done. Your readers may scoff at this, but Kyle Turris deserves mention as well. The second-line center position in Ottawa is a juicy one. You get similar chances as the top line against weaker competition. Thanks to Spezza's injury, Turris spent most of last season as the team's top center. But in the games where he got to play behind Spezza, he was a stud: 8P - 6G, 2A in 8G. Turris lost both wingers this offseason. The inconsistent Guillaume Latendresse has been upgraded to possession darling Clarke MacArthur, whose name I'll be mentioning later, and Daniel Alfredsson's spot is up for grabs between Cory Conacher (who did pretty all right playing alongside a talented center in Tampa Bay) and Colin Greening (who was last seen serving the power forward role for Jason Spezza). Mika Zibanejad is a dark horse to play on Turris' wing, but the organization seems to prefer him in the 3C role. Either way, Turris is looking at a net upgrade for linemates and some ideal ice team to do damage. He's already shown he can.

Defensive threats - Erik Karlsson, of course. Derided as an "offenseman" in his Norris-winning year, Karlsson actually finished 12th in the NHL in takeaways. In 2010, when the Senators had a top-10 penalty-killing unit, Karlsson was actually an important part, playing an average of 1:28 shorthanded. When MacLean took over, however, he chose to use those minutes offensively, which turned out well. Last year, thanks to injuries, Karlsson was forced to return to the PK until he was also injured. It's not that Karlsson CAN'T play defense--it's that his skills are best used elsewhere. He's never going to be a guy to blast an opponent with a huge bodycheck, but he's shown an increasing talent for using body positioning and his stick to strip the puck. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOr9-GU4DFQ) Also, his lethal acceleration allows him to get back quickly and break up plays when he looks like he's caught out of position.

Karlsson can gamble, of course, because of his partner, Marc Methot. Methot's job is essentially to play smart in order to allow Karlsson to gamble, and he's done such a good job of it in just one year that he earned an invite to Canada's Olympic Training Camp. Methot's actually a pretty smooth skater himself, so if teams open up space by focusing on Karlsson, Methot can take advantage to relieve pressure up the other side. He just isn't the same kind of threat in the offensive zone that Karlsson is, but that's okay--passing to Spezza isn't ever a poor decision. Methot's intelligence and durabilty also make him a PK stalwart, and he was a big reason the team finished with the top PK unit in the league.

After that, we've got nothing but potential. Jared Cowen has POTENTIAL to be a stud big man. Patrick Weircioch has POTENTIAL to exceed Sergei Gonchar's production in the same minutes. But they haven't proven that they can... yet.

Un-sung heroes - Hey, it's time to mention Clarke MacArthur again! MacArthur is totally under the radar because he was signed on the day that Alfie departed and Ryan arrived, but I don't think that's going to remain true for very long. Everything about his play seems like a perfect fit with MacLean, and more importantly, Turris.

Methot also doesn't often get recognition since he plays next to Karlsson, but it's important to remember he was essentially a castoff from Columbus. Sens fans have really taken a shine to him in a short amount of time. He's only played one season for the team, but it feels like he's always been a part of it. That's some pretty high praise. I don't even want to think what this team would look like without Methot, even though he rarely stands out on any given play.

Goaltending - Ottawa has the league's best goaltending tandem. Craig Anderson put up unreal numbers last season, and would have won the Vezina Trophy had it not been for an unfortunate high ankle sprain. Anderson was able to take his sweet time recovering from the injury because Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop were also in the top 10 league save percentage. Lehner played so well that the team felt comfortable trading Bishop. In 24 games, Anderson had a save percentage of .941. In 12 games, Lehner posted a .936. That was good enough to finish 1-2 in the league, excluding the scrubs who played one or two games. These two guys are the main reason the Senators' PK was so good. Anderson has simply found some kind of play-reading voodoo because he's always in position to stop the puck, and Lehner is a beast who is poised to become a superstar goalie in a few years--assuming he continues on his current trajectory. There's almost no talent dropoff between starter and backup this year--something that has never been true for the Senators before--and frankly, I'd be surprised to see the team lose more than a handful of games because of goaltending. I personally think they can even recover from an off night if the goalie is pulled soon enough, but, you know... I'm biased.

Coaching - I've already gone on and on about Jack Adams-winning coach Paul MacLean, so I don't need to harp on this some more, but I will. Did you know MacLean has been nominated for the Jack Adams every year he's been head coach? He is the perfect fit for this young team, in that he gets his players to do things his way, and rewards them for doing it. See: Erik Karlsson's turnaround. The key is that MacLean is strict, but not a taskmaster. He communicates with his players and his staff very well, so there's never any confusion about what a player is supposed to do, or why he's supposed to do it. I think that clarity has worked wonders for the younger players, because it feels fair. There have been nights when the fourth line gets the most minutes because they're playing well. Stuff like this goal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZZ8X1zWJbo) are what MacLean's all about. Conacher had been benched for a poor turnover for much of the third period, and then MacLean gives him a chance to redeem himself in the last minute of the game. His mind game (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8oE3QFeo4I) domination (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_uzhUayczg) of Canadiens coach Michel Therrien was masterful. He's everything you could want in a coach.
Our power play coach, WHOSE NAME I WILL NOT DEIGN TO SPEAK, should be fired. If the team could offer any look besides "Pass it to Karlsson so he can shoot" it would be lethal.

Prospects - We just finished our Top 25 under 25 series! You should check it out. (http://www.silversevensens.com/ottawa-senators-top-prospects-2013) Bottom line, we have some good prospects waiting for a spot to open up. Guys like Mika Zibanejad, Jared Cowen, Robin Lehner, Patrick Weircioch, Cody Ceci, Curtis Lazar, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Matt Puempel have not yet scratched the surface of their talent. There are bonafide NHL players developing in Ottawa's system.

How do you feel about the depth of your team? I think we're feeling really good about the team depth. General fan consensus is that there are more good players than spots available. Many of them are expecting to see a trade for that reason. A quantity-for-quality trade would solve a few problems for the team--they're one solid winger away from icing a legitimate third scoring line with Zibanejad at center.

Who are your fan favorites, and why are they favorites? Fans seem to gravitate to this Karlsson kid. I can't imagine why. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf8CSInaqyA) Marc Mehot has endeared himself to fans, as I mentioned before. Chris Neil, because he leaves his heart on the ice. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaY4UvMgvzg), and Zack Smith, affectionately known as "Z." because he does not give a crap about anything. (http://www.goldandorsmith.com/zack-smith-taunts-nazem-kadri/)

Who are must follow writers on twitter for your team? Well, Silver Seven, of course. @Silversevensens, @darren_mcleod (skip the Highlander jokes... sadly), @ryanclassic, @sens_adnan. To the rest of the staff I left off: Sorry I don't know your Twitter handles or whatever. Blame yourselves. @bonksmullet and @wtyky are also must-follows. @travishehateme does real quality writing, when he's not a conspiracy theorist. Among media: Ian Mendes @ian_mendes is one of the classiest guys I've ever met. James Gordon @sensreporter and Ken Warren @citzenkenwarren from the Ottawa Citizen have you covered as well. Sylvain St-Laurent @syl_st_laurent, even if you're not a Francophone, is worth following.

Who are must follow fans? (preferably non-crazy fans) Most of them are the bloggers I listed above, but two that come to mind are @steffeg, an awesome, knowledgeable Swede, and @_justanton, star of the "Ask Anton" (http://www.silversevensens.com/2011/5/3/2149653/the-best-of-ask-anton-the-top-10-anton24-comments) series.

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