There are more questions than answers for the Ottawa Senators as they return from a 4 game road trip where they needed 7 or 8 points and come home with 3.
The 5-4 loss to the Dallas Stars raises a number of questions surrounding the immediate future of the Senators. Obviously this team isn’t a playoff team, a conclusion I came to after the Colorado game for sure.
Now, what should the Senators do, for me, the first question and my focus today is in goal. Robin Lehner is billed as the goalie of the future, but is his growth being stunted by playing second fiddle to Craig Anderson? Lehner has been at his best in the past when he gets a rhythm going and gets consistent starts. He hasn’t got that lately (4 starts in a month, with no wins) and his play has been sub-par.
Now the catch-22 – If the Senators were to deal Craig Anderson, who has been their best player for most of the season, for perhaps a high pick and a “backup” type goalie in return, would they be better off? What if Lehner is the second coming of Jakob Markstrom, who hasn’t really found his game in the NHL despite for a period of time being highly touted and even considered the best goalie outside the league? The Senators have a relatively known commodity in Anderson, but he is also the best chance for the Senators to net a decent return because of his age, contract status and salary situation.
If the Senators are confident that Lehner is indeed a budding star, then moving Anderson makes the most sense. Lehner needs to play 50 or 60 games in a season to give himself the confidence to sink or swim, and he isn’t going to get that behind or beside Anderson.
If the Senators are right and Lehner is a future #1, then he should be peaking at about the same time as his young teammates and in 3 or 4 years this could be a contender, with the right pieces added. If the Senators are wrong, and Lehner can’t reach his expected potential, then another hindsight mistake with goaltending (hello Ben Bishop) is another black mark on the franchise and I am not sure there is another netminder in the system with the type of pedigree to fill the void.
For me, by the time the core is at the level where it will be competitive, Anderson will likely be in the twilight years of his career. It is time to move Anderson and get back maximum return between now and the trade deadline and turn the net to Lehner for the immediate future and see if he can live up to potential or if the Senators need to move in another direction.
The window for Anderson doesn’t match the window for this team and it is also stunting Lehner’s ascension to whatever he is eventually going to become. It is also delaying the confirmation of what that is, and by the time the Senators get confirmation either way, it might be too late and they might miss the window once again.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming Lehner for the loss or for what is wrong with the team , but the time has come for him to get a decent look for an extended period of time to spread his wings and become an eagle or an ostrich.
Other notes arising from the game in Dallas is the hit that Marc Methot took from Erik Cole. Methot took quite a jarring hit and also hit his head on the boards. When I saw the hit, I thought the worst, because either option seemed bleak to me. Either he had tweaked his back once again or he had suffered a concussion on the play with 2 hits to the melon in a span of a couple of seconds. It was really good to see him return to the game because that pretty much ruled out concussion, but the true test for his back will be how it reacts today and tomorrow to see if he can go against the Habs.
The part that is so frustrating to many fans (not to mention players and management) is the fact that they buck so many norms. Their record when they score first is abysmal, their record when they out-possess and out attempt the opposition is way worse than it should be according to advanced analytics. That game was theirs (2 goal lead, 73 shot attempts to Dallas’ 54) and they let it slip away.
It just seems like when they get the game going, the goaltending isn’t there, and when they get solid or spectacular goaltending, the offense dries up. This results in a lot of one goal games, where their winning percentage is 5th worst in the NHL.