Right now the Ottawa Senators are sixth in the Atlantic Division, already eight points behind the division leaders. It's still early but this is not where we thought Ottawa would be. I don't know that I would say it's time to "worry," but I do think it might be time to be concerned.
In a lot of ways there are good things that are happening. Sunday, even in a loss, they caught some breaks -- literally in the case of Bobby Ryan's stick-breaking goal that tied the game in the final 10 seconds. In addition Erik Karlsson is starting to play the way we've envisioned and Jason Spezza has scored as well. Obviously there was a scary moment when Craig Anderson was hurt, but even if he misses extended time backup goalie Robin Lehner has been good.
I think they know they've got a good team and they're certainly not happy with the way they've played so far, but I also think when they start to watch the tape from this past weekend, when the Senators had back-to-back shootout losses, they'll see some good teams and manage to pull themselves together.
The real problem might be that Ottawa doesn't sneak up on anyone anymore. Teams are going into Ottawa with the date circled on their calendar because they realize they're going to have to play well to win. They're not going to beat Ottawa with a backup goaltender. Last year maybe the Senators snuck up on a lot of teams. That's not happening now.
LIGHTNING LIGHTING IT UP
If you look up at who is ahead of the Senators in the Atlantic, one of the teams you'll see might be a surprise -- the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay's Achilles heel the past few seasons has been its goaltending. This is a team that's made several moves to try and solve its problems in net and now it looks like the Lightning finally have got it fixed with Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback.
Tampa Bay goalies always have known they don't have to win games 1-0 because of the offensive firepower they have in front of them, but now the Lightning are getting good goaltending every night. Add to that Steven Stamkos is on fire, Martin St. Louis is off to another great start and Victor Hedman is another year older and starting to look like a big-time defenseman and you have a recipe for success. All of those things come into play, but the scoring and defense shouldn't be a surprise. The main reason we can talk about Tampa Bay is their goaltending. Lindback and Bishop have been as good as any pair of goaltenders this season.
This is a team that's got staying power. The Lightning play in a very tough division but they've got a good mix, and don't forget that with the new postseason format and the way the Metropolitan Division has been, there could be five playoff teams that come out of the Atlantic. Put that formula together and I think Tampa Bay isn't a fluke and the Lightning will be in the mix come April.
'PEGGING THE PROBLEM
This was a season that started with a lot of optimism for the Winnipeg Jets. They've been drafting high for a few years and their roster already has some very good players on it -- Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.
However, I think this is the season the honeymoon ends in Winnipeg.
It's really great to have the team back, but now it's not just good enough to be there. This team has to win. If we get to the second half of the season and the Jets still are nowhere near a playoff spot, I think you'll see the locals start to growl a little bit and it won't be a bowl of cherries to play there. This is the season Winnipeg has to put it together and be a playoff team.
I don't see anyone's jobs being in danger just yet, but I think at the very least Winnipeg has to be in the mix for a playoff spot at the end of the season. They need to play well so they can sell it to their fans and let them know the team is on the right track and it might blossom in 2014-15. I don't think the Jets can make the playoffs in what is a very tough Western Conference, but I do think with the pieces they have they can be fighting for a berth as the season winds down. They have to be a player.
THE AVS KEEP ROLLING
This is getting crazy. I keep telling myself this isn't going to continue, that the Colorado Avalanche will find their level, but it just isn't happening. The kids are getting better and better. Paul Stastny is playing like he did when he was young, the whole team looks faster than anyone they play and even when there's a potential controversy like the one last week with goalie Semyon Varlamov, the team doesn't get shook up like some might. It just keeps humming along.
I've always been a believer that after 20 games you know your team. There are no imposters then. If we're sitting here 20 games into the season and Colorado is 16-2-2 or 16-3-1, we've got to start saying, "Hey, this team's for real." They're really good and after 20 games we've got to start asking, "Are they as good as Chicago?"
Do I think they're as good as Chicago? No. But at some point, as they say, you are what your record says you are. If we reach 20 games and this team is 16-3-1, we're going to have to start asking who the true power in the West is.