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Senators to use experience to build on success

Face new challenges, overcoming injuries after reaching conference final

by Chris Stevenson / NHL.com Correspondent

The Ottawa Senators will begin the season with defenseman Erik Karlsson out indefinitely, an early reminder that this is a new season with new challenges after falling one goal short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

A 3-2, double-overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final ended the Senators' unexpected Stanley Cup Playoff run but left them with valuable experience.

"I don't think that we look at picking up where we left off because it's a new year and everybody starts at zero," defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. "For us to pick up where we left off, that's a long way down the road. But I do believe we learned a lot and we grew a lot as a group, and we're going to take that experience and use it and build on it. There's a lot of work to be done. We understand that. I think we're ready for that challenge."

Not only are the Senators tasked with overcoming Karlsson's absence but also injuries to forwards Derick Brassard and Clarke MacArthur. 

Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's top defenseman, has no timetable to return after having surgery to repair tendons in his left foot on June 14. He skated for the first time since the procedure on Sept. 23, but coach Guy Boucher said he didn't want to get too excited about Karlsson taking his second step. 

Brassard, who had shoulder surgery June 6, may not be ready for the start of the season. MacArthur, who was expected to be a top-six forward and provide veteran leadership, failed his physical at training camp and has dealt with post-concussion syndrome the past two seasons. Rookie forward Colin White was expected to challenge for a roster spot but broke his wrist blocking a shot in a preseason game and is out until November. 

Here is a look at the five keys for the Senators, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season: 

 

5 KEYS

1. Karlsson's status

Karlsson has led the Senators in scoring and average time on ice in each of the past four seasons. If Ottawa is without him to start the season, it could be an opportunity for 20-year-old defenseman Thomas Chabot, the No. 18 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, to show what he can do in a top role.

Video: Erik Karlsson takes the No. 1 spot

 

2. Quick start

The Senators began last season 14-7-1, which put them in position to challenge for a playoff berth. With the status of Karlsson and Brassard uncertain, getting off to another strong start looks like it could be a challenge. 

"I think this year the advantage we have is we're not starting from scratch," general manager Pierre Dorion said.

 

3. Anderson must keep it up 

Goaltender Craig Anderson is tied for fifth in the NHL with a .921 save percentage the past three seasons. The 36-year-old played 40 games last season, leaving the Senators at times during the season, including for two months at the start of December, to be with his wife, Nicholle, who had throat cancer. She announced during the playoffs she was cancer-free. 

With Anderson expected to be available for a full season, the Senators' chances of returning to the playoffs will get a boost.

Video: TOR@OTT: Anderson slides across to turn away Rielly

 

4. More productive offense needed 

After finishing ninth in the NHL in goals per game (2.80) in 2015-16, the Senators regressed to 22nd (2.51) last season. The difference could be forward Bobby Ryan, who dealt with hand injuries and had 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 62 regular-season games but 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 19 playoff games.

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm6: Ryan sweeps in one-timer for PPG

 

5. Power play 

The Senators made the playoffs last season converting on 17 percent of their power plays, 23rd in the NHL. That was a slight improvement from 2015-16, when they were 26th (15.8 percent) and last at home (11.4 percent). Ottawa can take a big step toward returning to the postseason if it can be more productive with the man-advantage.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock  

There is uncertainty at forward and defense, mostly because of injuries, but one position where there is stability is goaltending. Anderson is coming off a strong playoff run, going 11-8 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. Mike Condon, who was acquired from the Penguins on Nov. 2 to fill in for Anderson while he was away, was a big reason the Senators made the playoffs. Condon went 19-14-6 with a 2.50 GAA, .914 save percentage and five shutouts in 40 games (38 starts).

 

Biggest battle 

When Karlsson returns, there will likely be five defensemen fighting for three spots. Veterans Johnny Oduya (signed as a free agent to a one-year contract on July 24), Cody Ceci and Phaneuf will get their ice time, but Chabot, Mark Borowiecki, Chris Wideman, Fredrik Claesson and Ben Harpur will be trying to grab the other three jobs.

Video: OTT@NYR: Borowiecki finds twine with pinpoint drive

 

Most intriguing addition

The Senators signed Oduya, 35, to replace Marc Methot, who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft before he was traded to the Dallas Stars on June 26. Methot was Karlsson's partner, and Oduya will be a candidate to replace him. It will be interesting to see if Oduya is up to the task.

Video: MTL@OTT: Oduya finds twine on powerful slap shot

 

Biggest potential surprise 

Karlsson has a remarkable ability to recover from injury. He was supposed to be out 3-4 months when he tore his Achilles tendon in February 2013 but returned to play within 10 weeks. He has speculated he might not be back until November. The biggest potential surprise for the Senators would be an early return by their captain.

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Bobby Ryan -- Kyle Turris -- Mark Stone

Mike Hoffman -- Derick Brassard -- Ryan Dzingel

Zack Smith -- Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- Logan Brown

Alexandre Burrows -- Nate Thompson -- Tom Pyatt

Johnny Oduya -- Cody Ceci

Dion Phaneuf -- Thomas Chabot

Mark Borowiecki -- Chris Wideman

Craig Anderson

Mike Condon

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