Back in October, few people expected the Ottawa Senators
to be making anything more than vacation plans after the regular season ends on April 7 -- after all, the Senators were coming off a 13th-place finish and hadn't made any major upgrades. Instead, Ottawa is headed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing the postseason in 2011. The Senators assured themselves of a playoff berth on Sunday by whipping the New York Islanders
5-1 for their fourth win in a row.
Here's a look at six reasons why the Senators are headed back to the postseason:
1. King Karl:
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 58 | PTS: 77
SOG: 249 | +/-: 18
In his third NHL season, Erik Karlsson
has become the NHL's best offensive defenseman. With 77 points in 78 games, he's all but assured of becoming only the fourth defenseman in NHL history to win the scoring race among blueliners by more than 20 points -- the others are Bobby Orr
, Paul Coffey
and Denis Potvin
. His 58 assists are third in the NHL, and he's among the top 10 in the scoring race. But not only has Karlsson taken a huge leap forward offensively from 13 goals and 45 points last season, he's improved his two-way play -- going from minus-30 in 2010-11 to plus-18 this season.
2. Big Mac:
General manager Bryan Murray changed coaches last summer, giving longtime Detroit assistant Paul MacLean
his first shot at a top job. The owner of one of the NHL's best mustaches showed he'd learned a lot in six seasons in Hockeytown under Mike Babcock, keeping the Senators on an even keel by knowing when to get tough or back off. MacLean, now 54 is one of the oldest first-time coaching hires in recent NHL history -- but he says the job came at the right time, and that he might not have been able to handle it as well earlier in his career.