Remember when John Paddock was coaching the Wolf Pack and was thought to be the solution here??? Well, that same guy who left the Ranger organization a few years ago to work with Ottawa's AHL affiliate Binghamton got predictably canned yesterday.
His first season coaching the Senators didn't start out bad by any means as the Stanley Cup runner-ups got out of the gate quickly building a double digit conference lead. However, as time has gone on, the once thought overwhelming Eastern favorites came back to the pack like a runner in a marathon who goes out too fast and then fades.
So, what happened to Ottawa under Paddock? Well, for one thing, goaltenders Ray Emery and Martin Gerber were average at best. Unable to provide consistent efforts in net, they showed the one real weakness in the Sens. Or maybe it was just my hex I put on them after I was pretty convinced that the Stillman/Commodore deal addressed the depth issue up front and on the blueline that it might cover up the two sieves.
In my book, Paddock mismanaged his two goalies as you never knew which would start. How's a team supposed to feel comfortable when they don't even know who the No.1 goalie is? It definitely didn't help that he still hadn't made a decision on who it would be for the first round.
While he was toying around which couldn't have been beneficial for team chemistry, teams like the Devils, Penguins and rival Canadiens were getting superior goaltending and picking up more points suddenly creeping back into the race for the conference's top spot and home ice.
Part of what also hurt the Sens was that stars Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson all missed time. As they go, so does the team. The terrific trio is the most lethal scoring line in the game for a reason.
What might be most troubling is that even with all three now finally healthy and contributing, the lack of goaltending continues to plague the Sens. Another red flag had to be the 5-0 drubbing they suffered at the hands of bitter nemesis Toronto. To lose that badly before the deadline at Scotiabank Place to your biggest rival who's not even contending is about as low as it gets.
Why didn't GM Bryan Murray pull the plug then? Instead, he waited another game to see his talented team get blanked a second straight this time 3-0 to surprising Boston, who vaulted ahead of the Rangers for sixth by virtue of one more win and extra games left.
You still look at that Ottawa roster and wonder who's going to beat them in a seven-game series? It all depends on Emery and Gerber. The blueline is certainly solid enough with top defenders Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips. I still wouldn't trust Wade Redden in a big game, especially against a big physical team (see 2007 Cup Final vs Anaheim). Commodore's a good pickup as he plays tough in his end and takes the body.
Forwards such as Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette are vital cause they make things happen. Stillman thus far has fit in. So the scoring should be fine.
Will Murray going back behind the bench be enough to light a spark under his struggling team? Can they just flip the switch? I've seen this before with the 2000-01 Devils. A team so talented that they definitely should've repeated. Not putting away Carolina hurt later on and they never had enough killer instinct to beat the Avalanche.
Are the Sens suffering from the same thing? Just maybe. They still have to go out and perform. The East is much tougher than it looked a couple of months ago. The Habs, Pens and Devs are all capable of going far. Keep an eye on the Rangers too. If they get in, they're very capable of doing something big.
So, am I discounting the Southeast winner? Looks that way. The Canes have shown a lot of heart continuing to win despite all the injuries. You figure it will catch up. Are the Caps ready to take that division? Given all the moves they made, they better. I think they're still another year away.
We're going to find out plenty over the next six weeks. It should be a wild ride. Fasten your seatbelts!