Senators Quietly Clinch Playoff Berth
One team who seemingly has gone under the radar this season is the Ottawa Senators.
After a sloppy 20008-2009 campaign, they have made a significant rebound in 2009-2010. Yet, they’ve done so very quietly. They’ve won their last six games and have clinched a playoff spot. And they’re only three points behind current fourth seed New Jersey, which would have home ice in at least the first round of the playoffs (home ice is huge in any round).
While their goaltending hasn’t been spectacular, the guys in net have managed to pile up wins when needed. Their number one man, Brian Elliot, has 29 wins in 53 games played (46 started), a goals-against average of 2.53 and .910 save percentage. Elliot has five shutouts, tying him for seventh in the NHL in that category.
Pascal Leclaire has gone 11-13-2 for the Sens. Mike Brodeur has won all three games he has started this season, including a shutout in his second game.
Though the team only averages 2.68 goals per game (compared their 2.81 average goals against per game), they have shown lately that they can put the puck in the net.
The Sens’ trading of Dany Heatley to the Sharks that brought in Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek has proved to be fruitful for the Sens, who at this time last year weren’t even sitting in the top-eight. Cheechoo has had a mediocre season at best and has caught the injury bug of late. Michalek is sixth on the team in scoring, scoring 22 goals (tied with Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza for the team lead) and 34 points in 64 games.
Daniel Alfredsson leads the team in scoring with 68 points, followed by Spezza (54), Fisher (50), Alexei Kovalev (48) and Matt Cullen (46). Cullen was picked up before the trade deadline from the Carolina Hurricanes and has proven to be a reliable center. He also provides added leadership to a group that has struggled with injuries all season.
The forwards have proven they can carry this team. Before their current six game winning streak, they won 11 straight games between Jan. 14 and Feb. 4.
Their defense may be their only question–their 18th in the league in goals against, however, their penalty is ranked sixth in the league at 84.5 percent. Consistency is the name of the game at this time of year. Before their current six game winning streak, they lost four straight, mostly margins of three goals or more. Over the past six, all of their wins have been by only one or two goals.
On the other hand, a fully healthy Ottawa Senators team can turn some heads in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. If they can finish the remaining four games of the regular season on a solid note, this team could be a sleeper in the quarterfinals.