"I love it when a plan comes together" - Col Hannibal Smith, the A Team
Perhaps a cheesy line from an equally cheesy 80's TV show (or for the younger readers a mediocre but entertaining movie), but it seems to fit and I could imagine Guy Boucher uttering something like that last night.
As I said in the preview yesterday, the Senators need to get back to the game plan and take care of the defensive end first, and also give Mike Condon some help given his recent two month workload. Check. The Senators limited the Lightning to just 21 shots and capitalized on chances of their own en route to a 5-2 victory.
Pretty much what the Senators needed to happen to recover from consecutive losses sandwiching the All-Star break happened. Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris, the Senators best players, were indeed the Senators best players and most of the other guys filled their roles. They went 2-for-5 on the power play, were perfect in killing off three Tampa man advantages. Condon was good when he had to be, even if there was almost another cough-up behind his own net remarkably similar to the game-changer in Florida, but fortunately the puck didn't end up in his net this time or it could have been a drastically different outcome.
Tampa scored first on a Tyler Johnson goal but Ottawa answered that one pretty quickly with a Stone marker and Ottawa never trailed again. The power play went to work and in the middle of the second, when Turris' shot got through the glove of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to give them the lead, and then Hoffman also counted with a power play goal early in the third. After Brayden Point got the Bolts within on, Stone again had the answer in short order to restore the two goal cushion and snuff any Tampa momentum. Chris Kelly iced the game with the empty netter, his 122 goal in his 800th game.
The Senators won one that they were supposed to win, and looked pretty good doing it, playing the system they are deployed to play. They will try to do that all over again on Saturday, when their trek home from the Sunshine state lands them for a stop in Buffalo before returning home for a four game homestand. The Blues did the Senators a favor by downing the Leafs so Ottawa opens a 5 point gap on their most likely first round opponent at the moment and used one of their games in hand on the Bruins. With Montreal also spinning their wheels a bit at the moment, Ottawa is just 7 points behind the Habs with three games in hand for first in the Division, although looking at potential matchups 2nd might be a more favorable position because at this point in time it looks like the Atlantic winner will get one of Pittsburgh, Columbus or the New York Rangers, while second place (assuming it is the Senators will get one of the Bruins, Leafs or Panthers.
But the playoffs are still a long way away, and the next big moment is the upcoming trade deadline. Ottawa has a number of areas they could improve upon, but what is the single most pressing need, and who is available to fill it. And finally, is the price to be paid worth it?
I will look at it from the net out. The goaltending is adequate, with two capable goalies (once Craig Anderson returns) and either one of them are capable of going on a hot streak that could carry into a playoff series. Not really a need to go out and get a goalie.
On the blue line, the Senators seem to have everyone slotted properly and the top 4 is pretty solid, despite what the underlying numbers say about the Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci pairing. With Freddie Claesson stepping in and showing he can be a good 5-6 player, they have 7 guys they can choose from and be relatively satisfied. If there is a need on the blue line it would be for a veteran who can play in the top 4 should the need arise due to injury, and can stabilize or improve the bottom pair. It would be nice to have, but if they enter the playoff run with that group of 7 healthy, I would be ok with that.
The Senators biggest need is elite level scoring. Not just a top 6 forward, but a legitimate top 3 guy. Bobby Ryan was expected, and is paid, to be that guy, but for whatever reason he just can't seem to get his game together for any significant length of time and is on pace for somewhere around 40 points. Ryan Dzingel has stepped up and filled a role nicely, as has Zack Smith but should one of the current top 6 go down to injury, there isn't a ready player to step in. The Senators addressed the need to add depth to the bottom 6 with last weeks acquisition of Tommy Wingels, but there is a need at the top end.
That certainly won't be an easy spot to fill, either with a rental or by way of opening the wallet for an established, signed player with term.
If you look at TSN's Tradebait list, Colorado is ready to deal, either Matt Duchene and/or Gabriel Landeskog. Both come with contracts in the $5.5-$6M range, with Duchene (26) having 2 years left and Landeskog (24) having 4 years left after this season. Either would be a nice fit and you could argue Landeskog could really use a change of scenery and was maybe given the "C" a little too early in Denver.
The same thing for a guy like Jordan Eberle in Edmonton, who also appears on TSN's list of players either likely to be moved or players teams are dangling. Eberle also carries two more years at $6M so Ottawa would have to shed some salary in a trade involving any of these guys with term.
If you were going the rental route, one that might not be as costly, there are a pair of Coyotes available, centre Martin Hanzal and winger Radim Vrbata. Vrbata is intriguing because he plays the wing, is a pretty consistent 50-60 point guy and is cheap ($1.5M this season then UFA).
The Senators aren't in a position to take on a bunch of salary, and any deal bringing on term would rely on someone being willing to take Bobby Ryan and his salary off Pierre Dorion's cap. I don't know how many takers there would be at that price tag, unless it is problem for problem.
In a perfect but unlikely scenario, someone finds the magic elixir to get Ryan back to his 30 goal Anaheim form, and while they are at it find out what is wrong with Lazar and fix that so he can fulfill his expectations which are certainly higher than a 2 point season, and Colin White's college campaign ends earlier than he would like and he turns pro at the end of the season to join the club for a playoff run. Then there isn't much need up front and they can maybe look for that stabilizing defenseman.
Second best scenario would be to bring in an upgrade while moving Ryan and his salary out, even if it means adding other pieces to the deal to make it happen. There is apparently some interest in Lazar, to give him a new start, and that could be one of the pieces.
The club's lack of depth, of NHL ready prospects and a couple of bad contracts are standing in the way. And while a potential Ryan/Lazar for Eberle swap might be good from one side, Edmonton can't afford to take the chance that Ryan just didn't fit in Ottawa and they probably can't afford the contract either without Ottawa eating some of his salary.
In the end they will probably do what Ottawa does, bring in a middling rental or do nothing at all.