NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
General manager Bryan Murray has set the bar for what will be the measure of success for the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15, and it is nothing less than a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Murray's expectations might seem like a tall order for a team that finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season, particularly now that the Senators have lost the point-per-game production of No. 1 center Jason Spezza (687 points in 686 games), whose wish to leave Canada's capital was accommodated by a trade to the Dallas Stars.
The loss of Spezza's offense, however, is hardly the only priority the Senators will have to address to reach Murray's goal. Here are Ottawa's three keys to success:
1. Stay out of the penalty box and drastically cut down on goals allowed -- The Senators' biggest need is to reduce the number of goals they allow, especially on the power play. Ottawa gave up 61 power-play goals last season, the second-highest total in the NHL (one less than the Florida Panthers). The Senators were shorthanded a League-high 320 times.
Before singling out goalies Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner for Ottawa's horrid 3.15 team goals-against average, consider that the Senators allowed a staggering 2,849 shots on goal, second-most in the League
"We obviously have to focus a great deal on playing better defense," Murray told the Ottawa Sun. "Our defensive core last year really took a step backwards. It affected the goaltending and the results weren't very good. We were taking penalties, not positioning ourselves properly."
2. A 30-goal season from Bobby Ryan and production from the rest of the top line -- It appears Ryan and the Senators will enter the season with the high-scoring right wing's contract talks on hold.
Spezza's departure clearly places Kyle Turris in the No. 1 center's role. Ryan failed to find chemistry with Spezza at the outset of his Ottawa debut but clicked with Turris, who also teamed up nicely with left wing Clarke MacArthur. Their line rivaled Spezza's as the Senators' top trio, and they enter the 2014-15 season with the responsibility of leading the offense.
Ryan scored at least 31 goals in each of his first four full seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. A return to that level and repeat performances from Turris and MacArthur are keys to the Senators achieving Murray's goal of a playoff spot.
"Obviously, losing [Spezza] is a big piece of our team, for a lot of years," defenseman Chris Phillips told the Ottawa Sun. "The production he brought to the team, it's hard to fill. But in saying that, we expect other guys to jump in and take that ice time that he had, and produce. … As a team we expect to win every night. Those are our expectations. That's the only way you can go."
3. Make Canadian Tire Centre a tougher stop for opponents -- Ottawa had to win five of its last seven games at Canadian Tire Centre to finish above .500 at home; the Senators ended with an 18-17-6 mark.
Playoff teams generally have stronger home records than that, and this is an area the Senators can focus on in their bid to contend in what should prove to be a difficult Atlantic Division race with the likes of the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning leading the pack.