The Ottawa Senators aren't the best team in the NHL, but their consistent success and the character they have shown after losing so many of their top players to injury has made them the best story of the 2013 season.
Head coach Paul MacLean has done a masterful job with this Senators team, whose depth has been tested in a major way because of all the veteran players missing a lot of games with injuries.
Many of the team's young players (several of whom began the year in the AHL) have been forced to play much larger roles than anticipated before the season, but that hasn't stopped Ottawa from winning games and holding onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Here's a list of notable players who have missed time this season due to injury.
|Player||Injury||Games Missed (Out of 30)||Importance|
|Jared Cowen||Hip||30||A legitimate top-four defenseman with impressive offensive skills.|
|Jason Spezza||Back||25||Led the Senators in scoring last season and finished fourth in the league with 84 points.|
|Erik Karlsson||Achilles||16||Arguably the best defenseman in the NHL and won 2012 Norris Trophy with league-leading 78 points among d-men.|
|Craig Anderson||Ankle || Out since 2/21 ||He was the leading Vezina Trophy candidate when he got injured and still leads the NHL in save percentage and GAA.|
|Milan Michalek||Knee ||15||Led the Senators with 35 goals last season and finished with 60 points.|
In mid-February, when reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson joined No. 1 center Jason Spezza on the long list of injured Senators who would be out of the lineup for a long time, many people expected Ottawa to plummet down the standings and fail to make the playoffs.
Not only are the Senators still winning games and likely headed for the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference (they are six points ahead of Carolina, Toronto and New York), they are having success in one of the most improved and competitive divisions in the league, the Northeast.
Very few teams, if any, would compete for a playoff spot in a tough division after losing their two best defenseman, two best forwards and No. 1 goaltender.
MacLean's system, which is based on fundamental, responsible defensive hockey is very tough for opponents to play against. His players are physical with their opponents, they block shots to help the goaltenders and they protect the puck well to avoid costly turnovers.
Ottawa is 8-6-5 against teams currently in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and nine of those 11 losses were by only one goal, in overtime or in a shootout.
MacLean is putting his players in roles that they are comfortable in, which is one reason why the Senators rank first in goals against (without their two best defenseman), 11th in powerplay success (despite the fact that the team's three best offensive players have missed a significant amount of games) and second in penalty killing.
However, the most impressive part of MacLean's coaching performance this season has been his ability to motivate his players and convince them that they can be competitive and make the playoffs without the team's four best skaters. This is not an easy thing to do, especially in a locker room that has a lot of young players who have not achieved much success at the NHL level.
MacLean has also gotten a lot of production from players who have very little NHL experience and would probably be in the AHL if the Senators did not have so many roster holes to fill because of injuries.
In his first year as an NHL head coach, MacLean helped the Senators go from last place in the Northeast Division to second as the team finished the 2011-12 season with a 41-31-10 record (92 points). Ottawa earned the eighth seed in the playoffs and almost upset the first-place New York Rangers in the first round but lost in Game 7.
For his tremendous coaching performance, MacLean was nominated for the Jack Adams Award last season along with Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Rangers head coach John Tortorella, but he did not win as Hitchcock won the trophy for the first time.
MacLean will certainly be a finalist this season, and unless his Senators fall out of the playoff race, it wouldn't a huge surprise if he took home the award in 2013 by a wide margin.
There are many deserving candidates for the Jack Adams this season, but MacLean is the clear favorite right now. Injuries have decimated his roster and prevented him from having his full lineup for most of the season, but MacLean's team is still one of the toughest in the league to beat.
If Ottawa makes the playoffs, MacLean would be the easy choice for the Jack Adams voters.
Nicholas Goss' Jack Adams Award Rankings (as of March 20)
- Paul MacLean (OTT)
- Joel Quenneville (CHI)
- Bruce Boudreau (ANA)
- Mike Babcock (DET)
- Michel Therrien (MTL)
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.