In a season that saw three key players miss significant time due to injury and a roster full of names most hockey fans wouldn’t know, the Ottawa Senators put up a heck of a fight. However, after battling admirably all season, the Senators finally ran out of gas as the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated them on Friday night.
The Sens’ season got off to a rough start after reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson tore his Achilles tendon and top offensive forward Jason Spezza needed back surgery for a herniated disk. Both injuries occurred within the first month of the season and were thought to sideline each player for the remainder of the regular season.
Despite injuries to both their top offensive and defensive player, the Senators battled and stayed afloat in the Eastern Conference standings.
A big part of the Sens staying afloat was the play of goaltender Craig Anderson. The veteran netminder was posting eye-popping numbers, as he seemed to be a sure-fire candidate for the Vezina Trophy and was named the first star in the NHL for the month of January.
However, the injury bug reared its ugly head again in Ottawa as Anderson suffered a significant ankle sprain on February 21st, which sidelined him until April 7th.
Thus, with their top three players out with injury, it appeared the Senators would slide down the standings while missing such key cogs.
However, to the credit of head coach Paul MacLean and leadership from long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson, the Sens stabilized their play and held onto a playoff spot despite playing without their three most important players for roughly a month and a half.
Both Anderson and Karlsson returned in the final month of the regular season and bolstered the Ottawa attack, as the Sens earned the seven-seed and a trip to the playoffs.
Once in the playoffs the upstart Sens upset the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in just five games further building upon a surprise season. The Sens advanced to take on the top-seeded Penguins in the second round.
Down 2-0 in the series, Spezza returned to the Ottawa lineup in Game 3 and gave his team a much-needed boost in a game the Sens won in double overtime.
However, that is as close as the Sens would get as a more talented Pittsburgh squad eliminated Ottawa in five games.
Despite the second-round exit, the Senators have plenty to be proud about. The team could’ve rolled over and died after the injury bug claimed their top three players, but the team didn’t use the injuries as an excuse, as they picked up the play for their fallen teammates.
Coach MacLean has emerged as one of the top coaches in the NHL, guiding the Senators to the playoffs in both of his seasons as head coach. Nobody expected Ottawa to make the playoffs last season yet they did. After Karlsson, Spezza and Anderson were all lost for significant periods of time, nobody thought Ottawa would cling to a playoff spot like they did. Thus, MacLean deserves a ton of credit and should win the Jack Adams Award for the league’s top coaching performance.
The Senators also saw young players emerge while their big three remained sidelined with injuries. Forwards Kyle Turris, Mika Zibanejab, Jakob Silfverberg, Colin Greening, defenseman Patrick Wiercioch and goaltender Robin Lehner are a major part of Ottawa’s future and they all took big steps forward this season. With older players like Alfredsson, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips all in the twilight of their respective careers, the emergence of the Sens’ youth was paramount in both their current and future success.
Even though the Senators ran out of gas after battling admirably all season, the 2013 season will go down as a total success all things considered. With a top-tier coach, quality young players and a franchise goalie, the Senators figure to be a part of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the foreseeable future.
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