Ottawa Senators Must Overcome Offseason Losses to Be Successful in 2010-11

Ottawa Senators Must Overcome Offseason Losses to Be Successful in 2010-11 After some lean years in the 1990s as an expansion team, the Senators have been a fixture in the postseason, qualifying for the playoffs in all but one of the last 13 seasons.

But since reaching the finals in 2007, Ottawa has not won a playoff series, losing again in the opening round this past spring to Pittsburgh. Ottawa has tried to work some prospects into the mix in recent years to offset the loss of some big-name performers, and the Senators are hoping those youngsters can mature quickly enough to help a veteran core led by captain Daniel Alfredsson make another deep playoff run.

 
2009-10 Record: 44-32-6, 94 points (2nd Northeast Division; 5th Eastern Conference; lost in first round to Pittsburgh, 4-2)

Bruins record vs. Senators: Boston leads the all-time series 55-30-8-7, and went 4-2-0 against Ottawa last year. The Bruins won the first two meetings by identical 4-3 scores in shootouts in Ottawa on Oct. 24 and Nov. 28 at the Garden. Boston also won the other two meetings in Ottawa, 2-0 on Dec. 21 and 4-1 on Jan. 5. The Senators got a measure of revenge with wins in Boston, 5-2 on Jan. 18 and 2-1 on Jan. 23.

When to watch:
The Bruins play at Ottawa on Saturday, Oct. 30, Friday, Feb. 18 and Tuesday, March 1, while the Senators come to Boston on Saturday, Nov. 13, Tuesday, Jan. 11 and Saturday, April 9.

Familiar faces:
Ottawa’s big offseason acquisition was defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who made a cameo appearance in Boston as a trade deadline pickup in 2004. Fellow former Bruins Shean Donovan and Martin St. Pierre were not retained as free agents, with Donovan remaining unsigned and St. Pierre signing in the KHL. Forwards Bobby Butler (Marlborough, Mass./University of New Hampshire) and Ryan Shannon (Darien, Conn./Boston College) have New England ties.

Key additions: D Sergei Gonchar (free agent); D David Hale (free agent); F Francis Lessard (free agent); F Corey Locke (free agent): D David Rundblad (trade with St. Louis)

Key losses:
D Andy Sutton (signed with Anaheim); D Anton Volchenkov (signed with New Jersey); F Matt Cullen (signed with Minnesota); F Josh Hennessy (signed with HC Lugano, Switzerland); F Martin St. Pierre (signed with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, KHL); F Jeremy Yablonski (signed with N.Y. Islanders); F Shean Donovan (free agent); F Jonathan Cheechoo (bought out); F Drew Bannister (free agent)

Burning question: Can the defense survive this summer’s losses?

The Senators added some offensive punch to the blue line with the addition of Gonchar (11-39-50 last year with Pittsburgh), but they didn’t replace the physical presence and steady defensive play they lost with Anton Vochenkov signing with New Jersey and Andy Sutton signing with Anaheim. Volchenkov (6-1, 226) was a feared hitter who led Ottawa’s defense with 153 hits and 172 blocked shots. Sutton (6-6, 245) had 197 hits and was second in the league with 204 blocked shots, including 42 hits and 51 blocked shots in 18 games with Ottawa after being acquired from the Islanders at the trade deadline. Ottawa still has rugged Matt Carkner (6-4, 231) patrolling the blue line after piling up 127 hits, 125 blocked shots, 190 PIMs and 24 fighting majors last year, but outside of his presence on the bottom pairing, opponents won’t have nearly the same trepidation about setting up in the Senators’ zone that they did last year.

2010-11 outlook: One year after the PR nightmare of Dany Heatley’s aborted trade to Edmonton and eventual deal to San Jose, this summer witnessed trade rumors swirling around Jason Spezza (23-34-57). The talented center remains in Ottawa, where he will be counted on to lead the offense alongside veterans Alfredsson (20-51-71), Alex Kovalev (18-31-49) and Milan Michalek (22-12-34). Two-way center Mike Fisher had a breakout offensive year with career-high 25-28-53 totals, and the Senators will have to hope his highly-publicized marriage to country star Carrie Underwood this summer doesn’t distract him from building off that success. The Senators are also counting on goalie Pascal Leclaire finally staying healthy and performing up to his potential as a No. 1 netminder.

Did you know? Leclaire might just have the worst luck of anyone in the game in recent years. Since the lockout, he’s managed to stay healthy enough to play over 50 games just once, when he played 54 in 2007-08, and even that year he missed time on four separate occasions with hamstring, neck and head injuries and a viral infection. That came after knee injuries limited him to 24 games in 2006-07. In 2008-09 he played just 12 games due to thumb and ankle injuries, while last year he managed to get in 34 games despite a broken jaw and a concussion. Things got so bad for Leclaire that he was even injured when he wasn’t playing, as the broken jaw came when he was struck in the face by a deflected shot in November while on the bench serving as Ottawa’s backup that night.

Next: We’ll stay in Ontario to check on Phil Kessel and the Maple Leafs, as well as the prospects for Boston’s next first-round pick courtesy of Toronto, on Monday.


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