Cleat Geeks

The Most Unlikely Playoff Team Ever?


sensMost hockey experts would agree it takes a combination of things to be a playoff contending hockey team. A high payroll, a big skilled number one center, a seasoned goaltender and proven leader are all essential if you want to make the playoffs.

The Ottawa Senators have climbed their way up from the basement dwellers of the NHL without any of these assets. And they are doing it with a 27-year old goaltender who has less than 20 games of professional hockey experience.

Heading into this NHL season, no team had more unanswered questions than the Ottawa Senators. With the third-lowest payroll in the NHL, it seemed the Sens were headed straight for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Even Bodog, a prominent betting website, had the Senators at 66 to 1 odds of winning the Cup. The same expectations put on the sinking Los Angeles Lakers to win an NBA title.

When the Senators fired then Head Coach Paul MacLean early in the season -who won coach of the year just two years prior- it looked like Ottawa was headed towards complete obscurity. But with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Senators are clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern conference.

So how did they do it?

The turnaround all started when defenseman Marc Methot returned from an injured back. With him in the lineup the Sens have been able to cut down opposition chances on their own net and in turn let high flying offensive players like Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad do what they do best.

Instead of having a number one line to try and generate scoring, the Senators have been able to put a 1A and 1B combinations together. Ryan, Zibanejad and Mike Hoffman make up one line, while Turris, Alex Chiasson and Mark Stone make up the second. Turris, Stone and Ryan are all knocking on the doorstep of sixty points. Only Turris and Ryan have played more than 200 NHL games.

The other place that Methot’s return helped immensely was right at home on the blue-line. Forced to play with the aging Chris Phillips, the leagues former highest scoring defenseman Erik Karlsson was forced to be more responsible.

There’s also the Hamburgler. Anyone who hasn’t heard of Andrew Hammond and his Hamburgler goalie mask needs to look this guy up.

Senator's Goalie Andrew Hammond with a hamburger.

Senator’s Goalie Andrew Hammond with a hamburger.

Enjoying the same meteoric rise to stardom that Jeremy Lin experienced with the Knicks, Hammond is a 27-year-old rookie essentially, who has picked up a point in 15 of his first 16 NHL starts. During this time he has posted a ridiculous .938 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average.

With a loss to the Rangers on Thursday night the Senators were knocked off a seven game winning streak. With nine games remaining this season, the Senators only play four at home. If they can hold off Boston, experts may just have to re-evaluate the pedigree of a playoff team.

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