October 11, 2016 - 6:00 AM
OTTAWA - With a new general manager and a new head coach, the Ottawa Senators are determined to leave old habits behind as they make a push for the post-season in 2015-16.
The Senators made big changes in the off-season after failing to make the playoffs. New GM Pierre Dorion replaces Bryan Murray, who stepped aside as he continues to fight Stage 4 colon cancer. Murray remains involved as a senior adviser.
Among Dorion's biggest moves was the hiring of head coach Guy Boucher to replace Dave Cameron and the acquisition of Derrick Brassard from the New York Rangers for Mika Zibanejad. Not to be overlooked was the signing of veteran free agent Chris Kelly.
The 45-year-old Boucher was brought in for his intensity and propensity for success on special teams.
Last season Ottawa was 26th on the power play and 29th in penalty killing. They allowed the first goal in 51 games, were outshot in 60 and gave up the second most shots per game (31.8).
For Boucher the message is clear. It's all about pace and quick transition.
"We want to use our speed with a lot of support, we're not going to be much of a spread team," he said. "I like support everywhere on the ice: d-zone, neutral zone and offensive zone. So we want speed, quick transition, a pack mentality defence, five-feet support everywhere.
"We want to be a team that attacks inside the dots in the offensive zone that doesn't play on the perimeter. We want to force ourselves in. That's what we're going to try to be and we will be, but it's just that in the beginning we'll need a bit of time to get it where I want it to be."
The acquisition of Brassard brings additional experience and leadership, and the Senators hope he will be the winger to spark Bobby Ryan's offensive prowess.
Ideally Ryan would like to get back to being a 30-goal scorer, something he hasn't accomplished since his last full season in Anaheim in 2011-12.
In Ottawa, Ryan has had seasons of 23, 18 and 22 goals, but more concerning is the fact that the last two seasons he's scored just one goal through his last 20 games. For the Senators to have any success down the stretch they will need the 29-year-old to be much more consistent.
Brassard and Ryan looked good together through camp and seem to be developing chemistry.
"I think he's a natural playmaker," said Ryan of Brassard. "He always looks to his forehand and I've been fortunate enough to be there for him a few times on that forehand side. Having played against him for so long I know a little bit about his game and I'm trying to get into areas that I can get open and right now they're working."
The biggest question will be who will play left wing with the duo. With Clarke MacArthur sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, Boucher is left to fill a huge void. Zack Smith is expected to line up on Brassard's left side when the Senators open the season Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Senators top line is set with Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone, but the bottom six will be a work in progress. With Curtis Lazar sidelined with mononucleosis, Boucher will be forced to experiment.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Tom Pyatt will anchor the third line while Chris Neil and Kelly will work together on the fourth line. Ryan Dzingel, Phil Varone and Matt Puempel will be given an opportunity to impress until Lazar returns.
Defensively the Senators will benefit from Dion Phaneuf, acquired from Toronto last February, playing a full season, but superstar Erik Karlsson will lead the way.
Thomas Chabot will start the season with the Senators, but the 19-year-old will need to prove he can handle the rigours of the NHL if he hopes to stay the year. Chabot can play nine games before the team decides to keep him or return him to junior.
Until the Senators adjust to Boucher's system, goaltender Craig Anderson will be relied upon to make up for any mistakes.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016