When we look at the Ottawa Senators defence as a system, just where do the problems reside? Is it with the coaching, as many of the fans would suggest? Perhaps it is in the defencemen that are suiting up for the club. Further still, there might be additional factors, such as the current goaltenders or forwards on the back-check. Here we focus on the aspects of the coaching, and the defence itself. We will touch on this discussion in a future article, the centres specifically. To see if their two-way abilities cost the team wins.
The Ottawa Senators Defence System from the Coaches
The Ottawa Senators coaches may be to blame for their problems with their defence system, applied and executed. Head Coach D.J. Smith and the coaching staff take a lot of heat for the team’s defensive performance. However, it seems there is a turning of the tide on that front. The front office brought in support for the coach to help implement strategies and just create a general mindset for winning. Included are Daniel Alfredsson and Jacques Martin, both men with a plethora of NHL experience. Alfredsson played 1246 games in the NHL and Martin coached for 1294. There were other names brought in like Steve Staios as President of Hockey Operations or Sean Tierney for analytics.
What Are the Details with Club That Could Be Tied to Coaching Strategies and Implementation
Smith has always been seen as a player’s coach. Furthermore, he has done wonders in the club’s development of young players. In contrast, with the talent on his Ottawa Senators, and their struggles on the defensive side of the puck, the system he applies has come into question. That is where adding all these pieces is part of the process. This year, the team seems less prone to costly turnovers in transition. They have a better plan for their breakout. Moreover, they just have a better, all-around plan, and want to support each other, rather than being left alone. Over the past couple of seasons, they tend to not have problems scoring goals, as we see from these graphs below.
Ottawa is a much more defensively responsible team this year. While still being able to be a plus overall. In addition, they have steadily improved their goal differential per 60, from 23rd to 21st to 11th from 2021-22, 2022-23, and 2023-24, respectively. They are taking baby steps, but as a group, improving. They have gone from an exciting yet bad defensive team to an exciting yet fairly even, to this year, more what a coach wants to see, boring, but on the plus side of the ledger.
2023-24 Expected Goals For/Against:
2022-23 Expected Goals For/Against:
2021-22 Expected Goals For/Against:
In terms of the personnel on defence, they are improving. It appears that they are shifting to players that are better with the puck. Jacob Bernard-Docker is favoured this year, as opposed to the likes of Nick Holden or Nikita Zaitsev of years past, gone by. If we check the different pairings’ overall analytics, it appears they are getting better. Perhaps there is more natural chemistry forming between the group. Alternatively, it does appear that they are attempting to narrow down who they want to target as pieces of the core. It is still early, but it seems to trend to see fewer names shuffling in and out of the defensive alignment. Finally, it cannot be understated how valuable the presence of Jakob Chychrun is to the group. He has experience, is very skilled, and provides a physical presence. A toughness, to show that this group will not be shoved around. If we focus on xGoals% for the past couple of seasons, it looks like the values are increasing. This is great news for the defence and the coaching staff alike.
2023-24 xGOALs% Defence Pairings:
2022-23 xGOALs% Defence Pairings:
2021-22 xGOALs% Defence Pairings:
Is It Between the Pipes?
For the club as a whole, everything is looking improved. The goaltending still needs improvement, but few teams can truly say otherwise. If we look at GAA better than expected, Anton Forsberg‘s 2021-22 really helped elevate his standing. He had a value of 0.20 that season. In contrast, this year he has struggled in that category and has seen time go to Joonas Korpisalo as a result. Forsberg’s rating for this year is a disappointing -0.66. You would expect this to even out as the season goes along, and for the Senators, let’s hope it does trend to a move even or possibly positive rating.
Korpisalo’s rating of -0.05 isn’t anything to write home about either, let’s be clear. However, he offsets this, with a stellar rating in high-danger opportunities. His save % above expected of unblocked shot attempts in such positions is a remarkable 0.167. Therefore, the goalies do need to be more consistent, and that would really help the team come together defensively.
All Out on the Defence System for the Ottawa Senators
Here we have examined the Senators defence and its system, and how overall it appears to be improving. We have compared statistics based on each of the two previous seasons. The topics we discussed were coaching, the defensive personnel, and touched on the goaltenders. The coaching is improving, bolstered by the addition of key pieces. The players on defence are becoming more stable, gaining invaluable experience, and coming into their own. The goaltending still needs improvement, but Korpisalo has made big, scoring chance denials, especially early in games thus far. This gives everyone confidence, and for the scorers to focus on providing offence. One point we didn’t touch on, but will do so in a future analysis, is how the centres contribute to the team’s defensive structure. Once all these pieces come together, the picture in the puzzle of a playoff team will for sure reveal itself.
Main photo: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports