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Sean Leahy

NHL 2010-11 Season Preview: Wrestling with Ottawa Senators

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene...

Last Season (44-32-6, 94 points; 2nd in Northeast, 5th in the Conference)

Surprising many, the Ottawa Senators shook off the Dany Heatley(notes) situation that took over their summer, moved forward without him and into fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Atop the Northeast Division at the Olympic break, the Senators stumbled when play resumed, losing eight of their next nine games before a 7-2-1 stretch to end the season paired them with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Sens took Pittsburgh to six games in the conference quarterfinals, where their season was ended on a Pascal Dupuis(notes) goal in overtime.

Helped by the play of goaltender Brian Elliott(notes) (with some help from Pascal Leclaire(notes) in the postseason) and a career season by Mike Fisher(notes), the Senators quickly forgot about Heatley and young talents like Peter Regin(notes) and Erik Karlsson(notes) began to develop.

Can last season be built on and repeated?

Key Subtractions

The biggest lost the Sens had was defensive defenseman Anton Volchenkov(notes). Not having his shutdown, shot blocking presence back there will not help Brian Elliott one bit. Ottawa was fourth best in the NHL with 28.5 shots allowed per game with 172 potential shots getting blocked by Volchenkov.

After questioning the elbow height expertise of reporters, Andy "The Expert" Sutton headed west towards Anaheim.

Secondary scoring forward Matt Cullen(notes) took his 48 points to the Minnesota Wild, which will allow for the likes of Regin and Nick Foligno(notes) to see more ice time.

Gritty forward Shean Donovan(notes) was not re-signed after spending the last three seasons in Ottawa. Donovan remains unsigned as he looks to catch on with another or ply his trade in Europe.

New Additions

Tight against the salary cap, GM Bryan Murray could only afford one big-ticket item in the summer: Defenseman Sergei Gonchar(notes), who had spent the previous five seasons in Pittsburgh. The offensive blueliner should give the Ottawa's power-play a boost and help bring along Karlsson; and while he may not be the shutdown specialist that Volchenkov is, Gonchar has improved his defensive game to the point where he won't be a liability in his own end.

Forwards

Ottawa was ranked 15th in the league last in goals scored (220) and that was with off seasons from Alexei Kovalev (18 goals, 49 points) and Jason Spezza(notes) (23 goals, 57 points) and another year of declining points from captain Daniel Alfredsson(notes) (20 goals, 71 points).

The potential for firepower is there within the Senators' lineup. Along with Mike Fisher (25 goals), Milan Michalek(notes) (22 goals) and burgeoning star Peter Regin (13 goals), if Spezza and Kovalev can re-discover their form, Ottawa can find itself challenging the Boston Bruins for tops in the Northeast Division.

Filling out the forward depth is everyone's favorite pain in the [Gretzky] Jarkko Ruutu(notes), his ta- team brother-in-annoyance, Chris Neil(notes) and Nick Foligno, who was on pace for a career high in points, but two separate injuries forced him to miss 21 games. Chris Kelly(notes) is looking for his sixths traight season of double-digit goals as he handles center duties.

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Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team

Iron Mike Sharpe, like the Senators, has a proud Canadian history in his sport. A middle card guy who put over a number of wrestlers who went on to bigger and better things, Sharpe always seemed to have a tough time winning on Maple Leaf Wrestling. Wrestling reflecting the NHL?

Defense

Even with Volchenkov as one of the league's best shutdown defensemen, the Senators allowed 2.84 goals a game, good for 18th in the NHL.

Bryan Murray's goal for this season with his defense is to let the other team block shots, as he told reporters after Volchenkov moved on.

Gonchar's addition will help the power play and the offense coming from the back. Another year of experience from Erik Karlsson, along with Gonchar as a mentor, should further develop the 20-year Swede's game.

Filip Kuba(notes) will miss the start of the season after breaking his leg over the weekend, but he and veteran stalwart Chris Phillips(notes) should continue to be leaders on the Ottawa blueline.

Rounding our the defense corps are Chris Campoli(notes), who brushed off an early season injury and played well post-Olympics; Matt Carkner(notes), who should be eager to see Colton Orr(notes) again this season; and youngsters Brian Lee(notes) and Jared Cowan who will get a chance to prove they deserve to stay with the big club with Kuba out injured.

Goaltending

When given the opportunity, Brian Elliott has always answered the hot tag. Given 31 games in 2008-09, he won 16. Given 55 last season, Elliott won 29 of them.

Pascal Leclaire will push Elliott not only for the starting job, but the oft-injured goaltender is also playing for a contract. An unrestricted free agent at season's end (Elliott will be an RFA), the 27-year old Leclaire needs to prove himself a viable No. 1 or his seven figure salary will lose a digit come next summer.

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Match We'd Pay To Watch

Carrie Underwood and Mike Fisher against former Ottawa teammate Mike Comrie(notes) and Hilary Duff in a mixed tag match to determine the better couple nickname: "Duffrie" or "Fisherwood." Losing female gets Sean Avery(notes).

Breakout Player

Peter Regin haunted the Penguins in the first round last season and with an expected increase in TOI (12:53) from a year ago, there's no question he should surpass his 13-goal total.

Potential Flop

Turning 38 years old in December, Daniel Alfredsson is staring retirement in the face. Even though he's lead the Senators in scoring the past two season, Alfie's have dwindled each year since his 103-point effort in 2005-06. Missing 12 games last season, the Senators' captain scored just 20 times, his lowest amount since the 1998-99 season when he potted 11.

Finishing Move

Alex Kovalev's(notes) shootout moves are so slick you'll feel like you were just in the crossface chicken wing (patented by Bob Backlund) when he's done with you.

Special Teams

The lack of power-play production from the likes of Alex Kovalev and Alfredsson helped sink the Sens to 20th in the NHL (16.9 percent). Sergei Gonchar's one-timer and presence on the point as power play quarterback should help improve that.

Having Anton Volchenkov kill penalties helped Ottawa finish seventh on the kill (16.9 percent). With him gone, Cory Clouston will have to find another partner on the main shorthanded pairing with Chris Phillips.

Coach/GM

Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk isn't shy about spending money to put the best possible team on the ice. GM Bryan Murray is the man who writes the checks to fill out the lineup and with his contract up after this season, results are a must if he's to keep his job.

After Dany Heatley bristled at his approach, head coach Cory Clouston has won over the locker room and the Senators bought what he was selling. With an offensive approach, Clouston will miss Volchenkov's presence on the Senators blueline if Elliott or Leclaire falter.

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: B+
Defense: B
Goaltending: B- (Leclaire's ability as a backup looms large here)
Special Teams: C
Coaching: B
Management: B

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

The Senators have what it takes to get back to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The question will be on the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire. If healthy, Ottawa can challenge Boston for tops in the Northeast and one of the top three spots in the East. If bad luck runs amok, the firepower may be good up front, but not enough to make the Senators a darkhorse threat come playoff time.

Ottawa Senators' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season

Vampiro was a mysterious guy that left a lot of questions about himself. That's the Ottawa Senators. How will Spezza respond? Which Kovalev will we see? Team Elliott or Team Leclaire?

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