January 11, 2012

The Ottawa Senators Bring the Heat in 2011-2012

Pittsburgh- The biggest surprise at the half way point of the 2011-2012 NHL season isn't the slow start by historically strong teams such as the Penguins or Capitals. It isn’t the massive goal differential by the Boston Bruins, currently at +70. Heck it really isn’t Sidney Crosby still feeling the effects of the concussion and not playing. The biggest surprise in the NHL are the Ottawa Senators.

Coming off a disappointing season which saw a coach fired, several cornerstone players traded and questions about off-seasons signings, first year head coach Paul MacLean looked like he was set up to fail in Canada's Capital.

The first big move actually occurred last season by trading for goalie Craig Anderson, who had a Vezina Caliber season in 2009-2010, however couldn’t recapture that magic the following season. He has been a solid netminder during his first full season in Ottawa. Not stellar but good enough to win the big games, however big performances will be needed from here on out.

First was the questionable trade for Nikita Filatov for a third round pick. Everyone in the hockey world  was predicting that this would be a massive bust for GM Bryan Murray. The former 6th overall pick did not pane out in Ottawa and by December 18th he was back in Russia and playing for CSKA Moscow.

Paul MacLean's first season started out horribly as the Sens began 1-5 and some voices in Ottawa began questioning if MacLean was the right man for the job.

Then after a 7-2 embarrassment to Philadelphia on October 18th, the team managed to win 7 straight and get right back in the thick of the east. This streak was spurned by the unbelievable production of Defencemen Erik Karlsson and Left Wing Milan Michalek. Karlsson through January 10th is 2nd in the NHL with 35 assists and Michalek is tied for third with 22 goals. Not to mention Centre Jason Spezza is leading the team with 44 points and Captain Danial Alfredsson is having quite the comeback season with 33 points at the tender age of 39.

Alfredsson, the most popular player in Senators history was widely talked about during the summer as perhaps being dealt in the middle of the season to a contender for a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Due to this start, one would now begin to think that the Senators may be dealing for veteran talent to solidify this rather young team for a Cup run.

This brings us to perhaps the second gutsiest move Murray has made in his tenure in Ottawa other than trading Dany Heatley. That move would be trading David Rundblad for Kyle Turris on December 17th. Turris had been holding out in Phoenix and finally signed with the Coyotes so that could play this season with the full hope and intention that he would be dealt out of the desert. There was no harder critic of the young star than yours truly. His production in his first few seasons was next to nothing for a player of his caliber and the fact he demanded supposedly a huge contract was absurd. But the more I see him play and interact with the team, it was a ploy to get out of a toxic situation in Phoenix. Kyle  has been a great 2nd line centre with 8 points in 11 games and appears to be fitting into the room perfectly with other young talent.

That young talent is probably the biggest reason for this turn around. Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Erik  Condra and Kaspars Daugavins all helped the Binghamton Senators win the AHL's Calder Cup last season. Nick Foligno has 27 points thus far and 20 year old Jared Cowen appears to be settling in nicely on the blueline.

Excitement is high in Ottawa right now especially with the All Star game coming at the end of the month for which four Senators Alfredsson, Spezza, Karlsson and Michalek were voted starters. It will be a chance for the entire hockey world to have their eye on the nations capital and get a look at an up and coming team with the right mix and right coach to make some noise in the playoffs this spring and for seasons to come.

Joe DeTolve

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