The Ottawa Senators were eliminated from contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-2 overtime loss at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
The Senators (19-27-5) have missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season after reaching the Eastern Conference Final in 2016-17. Depending on the NHL Draft Lottery results, Ottawa could be in the mix for a top-five selection in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft on July 23.
Here is a look at what happened in 2020-21 for the Senators and why things could be better in 2021-22.
Potential unrestricted free agents: Artem Anisimov, F; Ryan Dzingel, F; Anton Forsberg, G.
Potential restricted free agents: Brady Tkachuk, F; Drake Batherson, F; Michael Amadio, F; Artem Zub, D; Victor Mete, D; Marcus Hogberg, G, Filip Gustavsson, G.
Potential 2021 Draft picks: 6
What went wrong
Matt Murray‘s struggles: The goalie, who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2016 and 2017, was acquired in a trade on Oct. 7, 2020 to give the Senators a true No. 1 at the position. But Murray is 10-13-1 with an NHL career-high 3.38 goals-against average, NHL career-low .893 save percentage and two shutouts. He also missed 19 games due to injuries.
Goals allowed: The Senators are giving up 3.45 goals per game, the third-most in the NHL behind the Philadelphia Flyers (3.57) and Buffalo Sabres (3.50) That’s partly been a result of Ottawa having to use five goalies this season and partly a result of a still-maturing defense.
Road woes: Though the Senators have gone a respectable 11-10-4 at Canadian Tire Centre, they are 8-17-1 away from home; four teams have fewer road victories.
Reasons for optimism
The kids: The Senators have a tremendous amount of youthful talent, including forwards Tkachuk, 21; Tim Stutzle, 19; Josh Norris, 21; and Batherson, 23; and defenseman Thomas Chabot, 24. Their roster is littered with players who could become stars in the NHL, and there is no question Ottawa has made good use of its draft picks and could soon see the end result of their rebuild.
One year older: During a season without a lot of winning, the Senators have allowed the players who will contribute to their future to gain significant experience. They (presumably) won’t have to suffer through growing pains in a season with a playoff berth on the line. That experience counts.
Wins and improvement: It’s notable who some of Ottawa’s victories have come against: The Senators have gone 6-2-0 against the Calgary Flames, 5-3-1 against the Montreal Canadiens and 3-4-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the top team in the Scotia North Division. The Senators have also shown improvement as the season has gone along; they are 6-2-1 in their past nine games after going 13-25-4 in their first 42.