OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators were 14 points out of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Feb. 10. A historic finishing kick of 23-4-4 vaulted them into the postseason.
Not even the most optimistic Senators fan is expecting them to come close to that kind of performance for an entire season, but here are three X-factors that will help make them a playoff team again in 2015-16:
Ryan's hope: The Senators went on that run with right wing Bobby Ryan scoring one goal in the final 20 games of the regular season.
It was shockingly poor production for the 28-year-old, who has scored at least 30 goals four times in eight NHL seasons.
"It gnaws at you," Ryan said. "I've watched every game, numerous times, over that last 20-game stretch. I was playing on the outside a little too much. And even when I was getting to the front of the net I was allowing myself to have my momentum take me right out of plays. I think that's been an M.O. (modus operandi) on me; when I start to swing, I start to shift and I start to try and cheat a little bit offensively.
"I watched the 15 games before that when our line was on a roll as well and I felt like we were doing more of the little things right, just being in the right areas, being positionally sound, starting and stopping. What a difference it looks like. It looks like two different players on two different lines. I'll try to identify with the player I was in January and February a little more."
Having Ryan, who is in the first season of a seven-year, $50.7 million contract, return to his previous goal-scoring levels would be a big boost for the Senators offense.
The kids have to do it again: Two of the Senators' five 20-goal scorers last season were rookies: Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone. A third was center Mika Zibanejad, who was playing his second full NHL season (the others were veterans Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson).
If the Senators are going to return to the playoffs, they can't afford to have any of those young players backslide.
Partly because of injuries and partly because of choice, Senators coach Dave Cameron leaned heavily on them down the stretch last season and they delivered.
Stone emerged as a bona fide star. He had 47 points in the final 46 games, finishing with a nine-game point streak when he had eight goals and five assists. He also was a strong two-way player; he tied for the NHL lead in takeaways with 98.
His performance in the playoffs was hampered after being slashed on the right wrist by Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban in the first game of their Eastern Conference First Round series.
"Not only did he score a number of goals, but he stole a lot of pucks and played honest, two-way hockey," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. "His development over the last year and a half has really been a huge curve for us. We feel he still has growth in him, but we also know going forward that he's going to be a very important player if the organization is going to make strides to a championship."
The Senators are going to need young players like Stone to match or probably exceed their production from last season to be a playoff team again.
Standing Pat: After a solid first pair of Karlsson, who won the Norris Trophy for the second time last season, and Marc Methot, the Senators defense has potential but is unproven.
Patrick Wiercioch and Cody Ceci emerged as the second pair down the stretch, and it will be critical if the Senators are to make the playoffs again that they show they can be a solid 3-4 combination.
Wiercioch, 25, has been a polarizing figure. He led Senators skaters who played at least five games with a shot-attempts percentage of 54.52, yet he was a healthy scratch a dozen times under former coach Paul MacLean.
After Wiercioch was scratched March 29 against the Florida Panthers, he played more than 20 minutes per game in the final seven games of the regular season.
If he can continue to put up those kinds of numbers, and Ceci, 21, can be more consistent, that will be a huge boost.