OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators head into the 2015-16 season hoping to pick up where they left off last season.
The Senators were the hottest team in the NHL over the final months of 2014-15. It's not realistic to expect them to continue to win 23 of 31 games, which they did for a historic rally that carried them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Senators believe a better start and a little more consistency will make them a playoff team again in 2016.
"It's a new season. It's going to be totally different," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said. "Hopefully it's going to make us realize we need to start off better than we did last year. If it's Game 1, 2, 5 or 10, or 72, it still matters the same.
"For us, we need to be a little bit more consistent. That showed us a lot last year."
The Senators are back with much the same cast of young players who sparked their rally. The hopes in Ottawa are the experiences of last season will help the 2015-16 Senators find that consistency.
The Senators were fifth in goals scored in the Eastern Conference last season with 232 non-shootout goals and had five 20-goal scorers last season; four were forwards.
There's potential for the Senators to add to that total this season.Given how young those 20-goal scorers are, there's reason to believe they can increase their production with the experience gained last season.
Rookies Mike Hoffman (27 goals, age 25) and Mark Stone (26, age 23) led the way up front, followed by Kyle Turris (24, age 26), and Mika Zibanejad (20, age 22). (Karlsson, a defenseman who is 25, had 21 goals.)
Stone was one of the hottest players in the NHL after Jan. 1 with 47 points in 46 games.
"The way we finished last year, you're excited," veteran left wing Clarke MacArthur said. "You've got the young guys who got some good experience last year. Hopefully, everyone had a good summer and the way it looked in the gym, it looked like everyone worked hard. There's lots to look forward to this year."
There's even more potential for the Senators to be one of the top scoring teams in the Eastern Conference when you consider a couple of veterans had a dip in performance last season. MacArthur had 16 goals in 62 games and veteran Bobby Ryan, who has scored 30 goals four times, had 18. There's room for more, too, from forward Curtis Lazar, who had six in his rookie season.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray chose not to re-sign unrestricted free agent Erik Condra and traded veteran David Legwand to the Buffalo Sabres along with goaltender Robin Lehner.
Though Condra was effective on a line with Lazar and center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Legwand fell out of favor with coach Dave Cameron. Veteran Milan Michalek could fill Condra's spot with Pageau and Lazar.
Colin Greening, Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Alex Chiasson will fill out the fourth line.
A couple of selections from the 2011 NHL Draft, Matt Puempel (No. 24) and Shane Prince (No. 61) will also push for a job up front and try and be part of a young, fast and talented group.
The Senators missed veteran Marc Methot, slotted to play alongside Karlsson, at the beginning of last season. A back/hip injury caused him to miss 37 of the first 39 games.
With Methot minding the store, Karlsson won his second Norris Trophy. Having the Methot-Karlsson pair ready to go should help Karlsson and the Senators get off to a better start this season.
"I think (having Methot to start the season) will help the team more than anything," Karlsson said. "It will give us depth on the blue line, something we're going to need in order to play good. [Methot] is a big part of our D corps. We definitely missed him at the beginning of last year. Having him right from the start is going to help me a lot, but it's going to help the team mostly."
Karlsson is the Senators' key skater and appears ready to continue his dominance at the position as he approaches his prime years.
The Senators finished last season with Cody Ceci, 21, and Patrick Wiercioch, 25, as the second pair. They had their ups and downs but found some consistency down the stretch.
Gritty Mark Borowiecki will be the fifth defenseman, and the sixth spot is up for grabs. Veteran Chris Phillips will miss at least the first couple of months of the season after experiencing a setback with his surgically repaired back.
That leaves Jared Cowen, who has been battling injuries and inconsistent play, to fight with Chris Wideman, Fredrik Claesson and Michael Kostka for the sixth and seventh spots.
Murray cleared up the Senators goaltending situation by trading Lehner to the Sabres and leaving the job to veteran Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond, the hero of the 2015 stretch run who is known as "The Hamburglar."
When Anderson is healthy, he's capable of putting up numbers which rank him among the NHL goaltending elite.
The problem is he's missed significant time over the past three seasons, averaging 37 games played. Last season, it was a bruised right hand which opened the door for Hammond to make his NHL debut and help the Senators reach the playoffs.
Given Anderson's track record with injuries, it's not out of the question there will be a time this season when the Senators will have to turn to Hammond.
The Senators signed Hammond, 27, to a three-year, $4.05 million contract in May based on a small sample size, but what a sample size it was: Hammond was 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage after making his debut in February.
Given Anderson's injury history and Hammond's lack of experience, there is just enough uncertainty to make the goaltending situation intriguing.
The Senators have lots of room for improvement, particularly on the power play. They were 22nd in the NHL last season at 16.8 percent. It was a surprisingly low number given the assets they have to use with the man-advantage, starting with Karlsson at the point.
"We went through periods where we were playing well and just couldn't score, and then we went through periods where everything went in for us," Karlsson said. "We just have to find the basics, what we expect from everybody, what we have to do to play the percentages and be as successful as possible."
The Senators' penalty killing was better, ranking 11th in the NHL at 82.9 percent. The Senators chose not to re-sign Condra, who led their forwards in shorthanded ice time, and traded Legwand, who was second, so more of the workload will fall to Michalek, Stone and Pageau.
Cameron took over a team that was 11-11-5 under Paul MacLean on Dec. 7.
The Senators had a shot attempts percentage (SAT) of 47.3 at that point and improved to 52.1 under Cameron and went 32-15-8 the rest of the regular season.
Cameron had a simple answer when asked what would be the key to the Senators picking up where they left off.
"Put the work in. You have to do the work," he said. "You have to do the work every day here in training camp. That is going to be the biggest key. If we do the work, it gives us the best chance."
He said the Senators' work habits were the key to the historic run down the stretch.
"We came in and did the work every day," he said. "It's been the message for every team that I have coached since I started coaching. To play in the good leagues and coach major junior, which is the best junior league, you've got to do the work. You coach in the American Hockey League, which is the best development league, you've got to do the work. You coach in the National Hockey League, the best league in the world, you've got to do the work. It's as simple as that."
Andre Tourigny was hired as an assistant coach to replace Mark Reeds, who lost his battle with cancer in April.
Clarke MacArthur – Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad – Bobby Ryan
Milan Michalek – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Curtis Lazar
Shane Prince – Zack Smith – Chris Neil
Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Patrick Wiercioch – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Wideman
COMING AND GOING
2014-15 record: 43-26-13
2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Montreal Canadiens in six games
Key additions: C Eric O'Dell, RW Zack Stortini, D Michael Kostka, G Matt O'Connor.
Key subtractions: G Robin Lehner, D Eric Gryba, C David Legwand, LW Erik Condra.
Author: Chris Stevenson | NHL.com Correspondent