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Sunday Daily Puck: SA/Gging Sens

Adam Wolf

Adam Wolf

Adam began writing for RotoWire in the spring of 2012 as an undergrad student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He primarily serves as the site's day-to-day editor of NHL content, while also working as the Chicago Bears and Colorado Rockies beat writer, managing the site's Closer Grid, and contributing to the football and baseball magazines.

*All numbers used are prior to Saturday’s games.*

Around the Rink

Fresh off their surprise seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season that netted coach Paul MacLean the Jack Adams Award and included a first-round postseason upset of Montreal, the Senators were expected to ascend to even greater heights in 2013-14 after an active offseason. Though the team said goodbye to longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators still managed to upgrade their attack by acquiring Bobby Ryan in a trade from the Ducks. The addition of Ryan – along with better health from vital contributors such as Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Craig Anderson – was thought to be enough to make the Sens viable contenders for the top spot in the newly-aligned Atlantic Division.

Instead, the Senators find themselves stuck at 4-6-3 at the season’s one-month mark, trailing division-leading Toronto by nine points heading into Saturday. Unlike last season, health hasn’t really been an issue for the team; aside from Spezza’s minor groin injury in the early going, all of the team’s big guns have suited up on a regular basis. Those players haven’t failed to live up to their lofty offensive expectations either, as the Senators are scoring a respectable 3.0 goals per game, good for 11th in the league. So the question begs – with this sort of offensive attack and a preseason Vezina Trophy candidate in goal, how could things have gotten so rotten for the Senators?

Look no further than the defensive effort of the team's skaters for the root of the problem. Though Anderson and understudy Robin Lehner have both experienced a high level of success at the NHL level, the two netminders have been peppered with shots this season, hindering their overall effectiveness. The issue came to a head in Friday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Islanders, as Lehner faced 57 shots in the game, setting a franchise record and surpassing the previous mark of 56. Illustrating just how shoddy the Sens have been defensively, that mark was set less than three weeks before in a loss to the Ducks. It made Ottawa just the seventh team in the last 20 years to surrender 50 or more shots on two occasions during a season. And, keep in mind, they’re only 13 contests into an 82-game schedule.

The two record-setting marks are hardly isolated incidents for the Senators, who are last the league with 38.5 SA/G, nearly 2.5 more than the second-worst team. What was especially troubling about Friday’s game was that MacLean shook up his pairings and lines in hopes of improving the defense, only to watch everything go horribly wrong.

With the Senators now riding a four-game skid following their worst defensive performance of the season, don’t be surprised if wholesale changes are in order for the Sens’ defensive front sooner or later, whether that happens via trade or through a stream of AHL call-ups. The defense has been an issue for quite some time (for all their success, the Sens’ 31.3 SA/G ranked 23rd in the league in 2012-13), and it may make sense to package some surplus offense to remedy the problem. Until that happens, expect Anderson’s and Lehner’s win totals and GAAs to suffer, while fantasy stars like Karlsson, Ryan and Spezza could continue to see damage to their plus/minus figures, even as their scoring remains on par with preseason expectations.

Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)

Stars (Kari Lehtonen) at Senators (Craig Anderson), 1:00
Flames (Karri Ramo) at Blackhawks (Corey Crawford), 7:30
Devils (Martin Brodeur) at Wild (Niklas Backstrom), 8:00

Injury News For Teams Playing Sunday

Blackhawks
Brad Mills, C, CHI – (Lower Body) Didn’t play Saturday vs. Jets due to injury and uncertain to dress Sunday.

Devils
Patrik Elias, LW – (Upper Body) Scratched from Saturday’s game with soreness; status for Sunday uncertain.
Cory Schneider, G – (Lower Body) Didn’t dress Saturday but could be activated from IR on Sunday.
Travis Zajac, C – (Ankle) Sat out Saturday due to injury; status for Sunday uncertain.

Flames
Chris Breen, D – (Abdomen) Placed on injured reserve.
Lee Stempniak, RW – (Foot) Placed on injured reserve.

Senators
Erik Condra, RW – (Leg) Will miss a week of action due to injury.

Stars
None

Wild
None

Hot

Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT – Much of the attention for the Penguins’ hot start has rightfully fallen on Sidney Crosby, but Kunitz has benefitted immensely by playing on his line. Kunitz has scored a goal in each of his last three games – two on the power point – to give him a symmetrical 14 points in 14 games. So long as he continues to be deployed on the top line with Crosby, it’s not unreasonable to expect Kunitz to maintain the point-per-game pace the rest of the way. He was able to do so in last season’s abbreviated campaign, accruing 52 points in 48 games.

Alex Pietrangelo, D, STL – Aside from the Coyotes, the Blues might possess the most fantasy-friendly defensemen unit in the league, with Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jay Bouwmeester all proving to be adept scorers thus far. But it’s Pietrangelo who’s been deserving of the most plaudits of late, as the blueliner has five points in his last three games, posting a plus-5 rating in the process.

Braden Holtby, G, WSH – Though the goalie fight between Holtby and the Flyers’ Ray Emery became the main takeaway from Friday’s game, it ended up marring Holtby’s first shutout of the season. After a rough few outings to start the season, Holtby has quickly returned to form, winning four of his last five starts while allowing one or fewer goals in three of the wins.

Cold

Dany Heatley, RW, MIN – The veteran forward may be the most disappointing performer in the season’s opening month, accumulating just three points in 14 games for the Wild. Coach Mike Yeo has tried to jumpstart him by playing him on just about every line, but he’s still failed to launch. Deeper league owners should probably remain patient with him, but his days of fantasy relevance are clearly on the decline.

Dustin Byfuglien, D, WPG – Byfuglien’s two points over his last five games might be palatable even if unspectacular by his standards, but it’s his plus/minus numbers that are killing fantasy owners of late. During those five games, he’s collectively posted a minus-6 rating as the Jets have dropped four of those contests. Things probably won’t get much better for Byfuglien in that department Tuesday, when the Jets return to action against a good Detroit team.

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLS – Bobrovsky has hit some turbulence in following up his Vezina Campaign, going 2-6-0 in his last eight starts. Though he hasn’t been helped much by his offense, the blame falls squarely on Bobrovsky for his last two times out. After yielding four goals in a loss to the Ducks on Sunday, Bobrovsky was pulled in the second period of his most recent outing Friday against the Penguins after letting in three goals on 13 shots.

Recommended Pickup

Jason Chimera, LW, WSH – Though the flood gates seemingly opened for every member of the Capitals offense in Friday’s 7-0 beatdown of the Flyers, Chimera’s four-point performance more or less continued a familiar trend. With Adam Oates awarding him 15-plus minutes in each of the previous four games, Chimera has responded to the added ice time with outputs of two, one, two and four points. Should the Capitals look to dump the uninspiring Martin Erat from the top line, Chimera’s fantasy value could soar to even greater heights playing alongside Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
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