After a plethora of offseason moves, the Ottawa Senators will be held to a higher standard in the 2022-23 season. Expectations are high for the first time in over five years, and the Sens will be looking to prove experts right early on.
What does a successful season look like for the Senators? Despite expectations, there is plenty of room for the team to grow and become contenders for years to come.
Goaltending Will Be One of the Senators’ Biggest X-Factors
Despite their talent, the Senators will need their goaltending to be above average to make the playoffs and to step up and compete in the high-scoring Atlantic Division.
Unfortunately, Ottawa will enter the season one step behind. Cam Talbot suffered a broken rib and will be out for the next five to seven weeks. In the meantime, Anton Forsberg will be the starter and will be expected to perform.
In 46 games last season, Forsberg held a .917 save percentage (SV%) and a 22-17-4 record. According to MoneyPuck.com, he saved 8.5 goals above expected last season, which is a big upgrade on Talbot’s -5.8. The Senators are also expected to use the “hot hand” in net with a true “1A/1B” strategy to split the workload.
Sens’ Young Core Will Have to Step Up
Although the team is much improved on paper, the reality is that they are still a very young team with a lot to learn. Five players in the top six are 24 years old or younger. They have all had good seasons in the past, but now is the time for them to take the next step and become one of the best forward cores in the NHL.
If head coach D.J. Smith continues to put his players in good positions, they will continue to develop and improve throughout the season. Tim Stützle has been anointed a potential breakout candidate after being signed to an eight-year, $66.8 million contract. He will be playing alongside Alex Debrincat and Claude Giroux to start the season, and management will be looking for him to develop into a true top-six centre. If he does, the Senators will be in a much better position by the end of the campaign.
On defence, Jake Sanderson and Erik Brannstrom could also see elevated roles this season. Sanderson is 20 years old but has impressed in the preseason thus far and is pushing for a top-four role. Brannstrom has flown under the radar after being signed to a one-year deal and is the main competition for that coveted role. The Senators will need these players to be comfortable in their roles to see success in 2022-23.
Improving Five-on-Five Statistics and Power-Play Percentage
Every team’s goal is to get better at even strength. In the Senators’ case, if their analytics fail to improve after the noise they made in the offseason, the campaign will be considered a failure. According to HockeyReference.com, they held a 47.9 Corsi for percentage (CF%) and a 47.3 scoring chance percentage (SCF%).
Their power-play percentage didn’t help, either. Their 19.34% was below league average, and that will have to improve dramatically this season. The addition of Debrincat, who scored 28 points on the power play in 2021-22, will provide a huge boost, and with the talent they have, their power play will have to finish in the top ten if they want to make a serious run at a playoff spot.
So far, the coaching staff has split the talent across the two units on the power play during training camp. The first unit is unchanged from last season, and the second one features Debrincat, Giroux, Shane Pinto, Mathieu Joseph, and Jake Sanderson. Both units will have the chance to establish chemistry early on.
The Senators are hunting for a playoff spot for the first time since 2016-17, the season they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final before a heartbreaking defeat. It’s been a long time since they’ve had playoff expectations, and improving on these things will go a long way towards making that a reality.
Connor Hrabchak is 20 years old, currently covering the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers, and is working towards completing his communications and media degree. He was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He’s been watching hockey ever since they moved back to Winnipeg in 2011, and that has inspired him to write about hockey and attempt to make it into a full-time career.