Ottawa Senators: Who Steps Up In Alex Kovalev's Absence?

Mike Burse@Burse21Correspondent IApril 10, 2010

What is the status of Kovalev?

According to a report in the Ottawa Sun, the Senators have lost their fourth leading scorer for the remainder of this season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is reported that he has completely torn the ACL in his left knee.

He is scheduled to undergo knee surgery in two weeks, and while he will recover eventually, it will be a long arduous process for him to be 100 percent come the 2010-2011 season opener.


Kovalev's performance this season

In his first season with the Sentors Kovalev has been, well, Kovalev. Flashes of brilliance combined with long streches of invisibility. He is a frustrating payer to watch as he has the skills to be a major force in the league but much of the time he just does not seem interested.

In 77 games he has scored 18 goals, added 31 assists, while spending 54 minutes in the penalty box. He also scored five game winning goals and is minus nine rating. As evidence by these numbers he is a valuable player to this Senators team.


Who will replace his offence in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Senators?


Nick Foligno

The 6'0" 209 lbs 22 year old is in his third season with the Senators. Thus far in 186 NHL games he has scored 32 goals, added 35 assists, for 67 points. He also spent 132 minutes in the penalty box and has posted a minus four rating.

This season in 60 NHL games he has scored 9 goals, added 17 assists, for 26 points. He also spent 53 minutes in the penalty box and has posted a plus six rating.

Foligno has a quick wristshot and displays good puck control. He gets into the corners and digs for loose pucks effectively. While he is not an elite skater, I do not see this as a drawback to his game.

He is not likely to become an top-flight goal scorer at the NHL level, although he should eventually develop into a consistent 25-30 goal scorer who will pay on the second line and power play. Also, with some work he could become an effective penalty killer in the future.

The Senators need him to step up his game in the playoffs in order to get past the first round this year.


Ryan Shannon

The 5'9" 171 lbs 26 year old is in his second season with the Senators. Thus far in 181 NHL games he has scored 20 goals, added 40 assists, for 60 points. He also spent 56 minutes in the penalty box and has posted a minus 16 rating.

This season in 66 NHL games he has scored 5 goals, added 11 assists, for 16 points. He also spent 20 minutes in the penalty box and has posted a minus 12 rating.

Shannon is an excellent skater and playmaker. Thus far at the NHL level he has had troubles putting up points.  Although he was a point per game player at the AHL level last season so that provides hope that he has more to show.

His hard work ethic has not faded and this seems to have put him in the good graces of coach Cory Clouston. He played for Clouston in Binghamton at the AHL level last season and was one of the Baby Sens to come up to the NHL level full time this season with Clouston.

While he is not likely to become a full time top six forward at the NHL level, I see him becoming a third line player that sees time on the second power play unit. He will also see spot duty as a top six forward when injuries occur.

He will need to show up more on the score sheet as well if the Senators are to effectively replace Kovalev's offense.


Will the Sens be better off without Kovalev?

It is hard to find this statement true due to the elite talent that he can turn on at anytime. When he is turned on in the playoffs, he is the type of player that can take command of a series and lead his team to victory. That is of course if that particular Kovalev is the one that shows up to the rink.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the Sens will be better in the playoffs without Kovalev. While Clouston never really knows what he will get from Kovalev, he will be able to give more ice time to hard working players such a Foligno and Shannon.

The increased ice time and responsibility may just be the kick start that those two players need to step up their games and become integral parts of the Sens offense, both now and in the future.


Who will be their first round opponent?

The Sens have all but locked up fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The results of the last two games of the season for the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins will determine the Sens first round opponent.

I am not sure which team they would rather match up against, the defending Stanley Cup Champions or the perennial Cup contenders. I believe the Sens have a better shot at beating the Devils in the first round, and here is why.


New Jersey Devils

While the Devils do posses a future first ballot hall of fame goaltender in Martin Brodeur, and they are a very good defensive team, the offense is not nearly as potent as the Penguins.

The Devils only have one defenseman in Andy Greene that has scored more than 20 points this season. Granted, their top puck moving defenseman Paul Martin has only appeared in 20 games this season due to injury.

The Devils also only have two top six forwards that are scoring at a point per game ratio in Zach Parise and the recently acquired Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Sens have played four games against the Devils. They have won one and lost three.

They have also outshot the Devils 93-92, although they have actually been out scored 10-8 in those games. They have also won 55.9 percent of the faceoffs.


Pittsburgh Penguins

In Comparision the Penguins have four defensemen with 20 or more points (Brook Orpik, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Sergei Gonchar). While the offense is similar boasting only two top six forwards at a point per game ratio in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. The Penguins are also fairly solid in goal with Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes.

The Sens have played four games against the Penguins. They have won two and lost two. They has also out shot the Penguins 137-122. Although they have been out scored 15-13 in those games. They have also won 49.6 percent of the faceoffs.


Will the Sens make it past the first round?

The Senators have three defensemen with 20 or more points (Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba). While the offense has only one forward at a point per game ratio in Daniel Alfredsson. In goal Brian Elliot looks to be the playoff starter, and while his 2.57 GAA and 0.909 SV% have been solid numbers he is unproven in the playoffs.

If they are matched up against the Penguins, I am predicting they will lose the series in five games. I do not see their offense matching up close enough to the Penguins. Also, in terms of goaltending, look for Fleury to step up his game when the playoffs begin.

While the Sens have a better record against the Penguins than the Devils, the Penguins have scored more and won more faceoffs against the Sens.

If they draw the Devils, they will lose the series in six games. Their offensive numbers are similar (although the loss of Kovalev affects that balance) and the Sens actually have a higher scoring defense. I believe that the Devils are a better defensive team and that will show in the series. The games will be close scores (2-1, 3-2, etc) but the Devils will come out on top in six games.

Who would you rather see the Senators draw as an opponent in the first round of the Cup playoffs?





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