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Hammond, Ryan among questions facing Senators

by Chris Stevenson /

OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators will be an interesting team this season because the elements that made them the success story of the final two months of last season also present the biggest question marks.

Their charge to the Stanley Cup Playoffs was fueled by a rookie coach, a goaltender making his NHL debut, and a group of young players who successfully handled bigger roles and more responsibility.

Here are three questions the Senators face this season:

Can "The Hamburglar" do it again? Goalie Andrew Hammond was perhaps the feel-good story of the 2014-15 NHL season. He was a 27-year-old struggling in the American Hockey League who got a chance to debut in the NHL when the Senators ran out of goaltenders in February after injuries to Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.

Hammond's 20-1-2 record and .941 save percentage was the foundation of the rally to make the playoffs, and he won over teammates and fans with his low-key attitude, modest personality and catchy nickname.

"Obviously, from how my season was going in the first half, it's not something I probably envisioned," Hammond said, "but the great thing about sports and hockey in particular is anything can happen, and I was given a chance to kind of hit the refresh button a little bit when I got called up and I was able to play some of my best hockey down the stretch there."

He faltered slightly in the playoffs, and despite the small sample size, the Senators signed Hammond to a three-year, one-way contract and traded Lehner to the Buffalo Sabres.

With Anderson injury-prone, Hammond likely will again play a significant role.

"It's something I feel like I have to prove myself every day," Hammond said. "Whether that's to meet the expectations of others, I don't know. I don't think I can worry about meeting the expectations of others too much. I know I put extremely high expectations on my own shoulders, and it's up to me to match those, and I feel like if I'm able to be happy with my play, myself, everything else will take care of itself."

Can Craig Anderson stay healthy? Since joining the Senators in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, Anderson has averaged 44 games a season as the Senators starter. They would have liked him to average about 20 games more than that.

When he's played, Anderson has ranked among the League leaders at times (.941 save percentage and 1.69 GAA in 2012-13; .923 last season). He played well in the playoffs after taking over from Hammond against the Montreal Canadiens (2-2, 0.97 goals-against average, .972 save percentage).

The Senators are young and inexperienced in goal after Anderson. There are 25 games of NHL experience behind him; Hammond has 24 of those. The projected goaltenders for the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, are Chris Driedger, who has played 23 minutes in the NHL, and Matt O'Connor, who played for Boston University last season.

What will Bobby Ryan contribute? The 28-year-old is expected to be one of the Senators' offensive leaders, but he struggled down the stretch in 2014-15.

Ryan had 18 goals and 36 assists for 54 points, but after scoring in back-to-back games March 3 and 4, Ryan had one goal in the final 20 regular-season games. He did not have an assist in 17 of those games.

Ryan scored two goals in Game 5 of the six-game, Eastern Conference First Round loss to the Canadiens.

It's remarkable the Senators were capable of going on the run they did to make the playoffs with Ryan contributing so little. It says a lot about what they got from their emerging young talent.

There will be even more scrutiny on Ryan, who enters the first year of a seven-year, $50.75 million contract extension he signed on the eve of last season.

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