Senators Hope to Get Back on Track Under New Coach Paul MacLean


August 24, 2011

Senators Hope to Get Back on Track Under New Coach Paul MacLean Long a perennial postseason participant, the Senators have hit some tough times of late, missing the playoffs twice in the last three years after qualifying in each of the previous 11 seasons. Last year was particularly painful, as Ottawa finished with just 74 points, its lowest total since 1995-96, and jettisoned many of its veterans in a massive fire sale at the trade deadline. The Senators also got rid of coach Cory Clouston after three seasons, hiring Paul MacLean to take over behind the bench after spending the past six seasons as an assistant in Detroit.

2010-11 Record: 32-40-10, 74 points (5th Northeast Division; 13th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)

Bruins record vs. Senators: Boston leads the all-time series 60-31-8-7, and dominated Ottawa last season. The Bruins went 5-1-0, with three of those wins being shutouts as Boston outscored the Senators 18-5.

When to watch: The Bruins host the Senators on Tuesday, Nov. 1, Tuesday, Jan. 31 and Tuesday, Feb. 28, while playing at Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 14, Saturday, Feb. 25 and Thursday, April 5.

Familiar faces: Both of Ottawa's goalies, Craig Anderson and Alex Auld, had brief stints as backups in Boston, while defenseman Sergei Gonchar was also briefly a Bruin after being acquired at the trade deadline in 2004. There's a bit of New England flavor up front as well with forward Bobby Butler (Marlborough, Mass./University of New Hampshire) emerging as a big part of Ottawa's offense.

Key additions: F Zenon Konopka (free agent); F Nikita Filatov (trade with Columbus); G Alex Auld (free agent); F/D Tim Conboy (free agent); F Mark Parrish (free agent); G Mike McKenna (free agent)

Key losses: F Ryan Shannon (signed with Tampa Bay); F Marek Savatos (free agent); D Andre Benoit (signed with Spartak Moscow, KHL); D David Hale (free agent); D Derek Smith (signed with Colorado); G Curtis McElhinney (signed with Phoenix); F Cody Bass (signed with Columbus); G Mike Brodeur (free agent); D Lee Sweatt (retired); G Pascal Leclaire (free agent); F Ryan Potulny (signed with Washington)

Burning question: Will Ottawa's more physical lineup wear down opponents or just wear out the Senators' penalty killers?

There weren't many positives to take for Ottawa's 2010-11 season, but the Senators could take a little solace in their work on the penalty kill, which ranked ninth in the league at 83.7 percent. Ottawa's penalty killers were tested quite a bit, finishing 15th in the league with 294 times shorthanded. That unit could face an even bigger challenge this year after adding Konopka, who has led the NHL in PIMs each of the last two seasons with 265 and 307. He joins last year's runner-up, Chris Neil, who had 210 PIMs, along with Matt Carkner (136 PIMs in 50 games), Zack Smith (120 PIMs in 55 games) and Francis Lessard (78 PIMs in 24 games). Many of those penalty minutes came on matching fighting majors which didn't affect the manpower situation, but it's clear that Ottawa is beefing up to play a very physical style of game. That can be effective in wearing down opponents, but the Senators will also have to take care not to wear down their own penalty killers by spending too much time in the sin bin.

2011-12 outlook: Despite their struggles last season and the number of veterans dealt away, there are some quality pieces in place to build around in Ottawa. Captain Daniel Alfredsson leads the way, or at least the Senators hope he will be able to after undergoing back surgery in June. He had just 14-17-31 totals in 54 games last year. Jason Spezza (21-36-57 in 66 games) and Milan Michalek (18-15-33 in 66 games) both battled through injuries as well last season. Butler (10-11-21 in 36 games) and Nick Foligno (14-20-34) lead the youth movement up front, and 2011 sixth overall pick Mike Zibanejad could join them as well, though he may need another year in Sweden before he is ready for the NHL. The Senators also took a chance on enigmatic Russian forward Filatov, acquiring the 2008 sixth overall selection from Columbus for a third-round pick.

On the blue line, Erik Karlsson (13-32-45) has emerged as a promising young defender, but Ottawa still needs more from last summer's big investment, veteran Gonchar (7-20-27). The Senators need more from their goalies as well, and they're banking on Anderson playing more like he did in Ottawa after arriving at the trade deadline (11-5-1, 2.05 GAA, .939 save percentage) than he did in Colorado (13-15-3, 3.28 GAA, .897 save percentage). Ottawa re-signed Anderson to a four-year, $12.75-million deal this summer, and also added a capable backup in Auld.

Did you know? Ottawa's top affiliate in Binghamton won the Calder Cup as American Hockey League champions this past spring. The playoff experience should benefit the Senators' prospects, but winning at the AHL level doesn't necessarily translate into success in the NHL postseason. The Hershey Bears won the previous two Calder Cups, and their parent club in Washington hasn't exactly thrived in the playoffs despite dominant regular seasons. In fact, the only franchise to win both the Calder Cup and Stanley Cup in the last 15 years is Boston, and it took the Bruins 12 years to bring home Stanley this spring after winning the Calder in 1999. No one who played on that championship squad in Providence is still playing in the NHL, let alone for the Bruins.

With the bulk of the offseason moves complete and the start of another NHL season inching closer, Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be previewing one team from each conference every day through August 26.

Tuesday, Aug. 23: Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche

Thursday, Aug. 25: Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild

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