Senators-Jets Preview

The Ottawa Senators aren’t going to fly under anyone’s radar
this season. The Winnipeg Jets are hoping to be the team that
catches opponents by surprise this time around.

Everything seemed to come together for the Senators last year,
and they’re eager to build on the experience when they visit
Winnipeg on Saturday as the NHL’s shortened season gets
underway.

The Senators weren’t predicted to make much noise in 2011-12,
but they surpassed expectations by making the playoffs as the
eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They then took the
top-seeded New York Rangers to seven games in the opening round
before finally bowing out.

First-year coach Paul MacLean finally seemed to be the right fit
behind the bench, captain Daniel Alfredsson remained healthy, Jason
Spezza finished fourth in the league in scoring with 84 points,
Craig Anderson was solid in goal and Erik Karlsson posted 78 points
en route to winning his first Norris Trophy.

Now the Senators, in a tough Northeast Division, will attempt to
put all the pieces together again in a 48-game season after going
41-31-10 last year.

“I think we have a pretty good idea where our expectations
should be and what we expect out of ourselves,” Alfredsson said.
“We can’t control what everybody else thinks and I hope they think
we’re better than we were last year because I’m sure we did
surprise a lot of people. But we have a pretty good idea of what
kind of team we are and we know we have to work hard to be back in
the playoffs.”

MacLean was more blunt about his team.

“I feel good about it,” he said. “But I’m also scared to
death.”

Alfredsson, now 40, believes his body can hold up to the rigors
of the condensed schedule, but you can bet the Senators will be
monitoring him closely.

Other teams will be monitoring Karlsson closely after his
breakout season. In addition, Karlsson finds himself with a new
defensive partner, Marc Methot, after the Senators chose to let
Filip Kuba test free agency.

“With a guy like him I need to put my ego aside and really just
feed him the puck as much as humanly possible,” Methot said.
“There’s a reason why he was the best defenseman in the league last
season and you just have to let him make plays and the more he has
the puck on his stick the more opportunity he’s going to have.”

The Senators could be even better offensively this season than
they were in 2011-12, when they finished fourth in the league with
243 goals. The addition of 22-year-old rookie Jakob Silfverberg and
25-year-old Guillaume Latendresse provides the Senators with two
solid lines.

Silfverberg admits that starting the season in the AHL, where he
led Binghamton with 13 goals and 16 assists, definitely worked to
his advantage.

“Those 34 games … were very good for me,” he said. “It made me
a whole lot better hockey player on the smaller ice surface.”

The Jets also have high hopes heading into their second season
in Winnipeg: They want to snag the playoff berth that seemed
tantalizingly close last year.

Winnipeg (37-35-10) stumbled down the stretch, going 3-6-2 in
its last 10 games to finish eight points behind Ottawa.

“When you look at all the numbers and you look at the way we
performed last year, there were some glaring areas that we have to
be better,” coach Claude Noel said. “If we’re going to find
solutions to the problems that we have, then let’s address the
problems and let’s find solutions to these problems.”

So what are the problems?

Defensively, the Jets allow too many shots – quality shots – on
their own net. Their defense, in particular Dustin Byfuglien, is
great on offense. Byfuglien tied for second in the league in
scoring by a defenseman with 53 points and overall the defense was
No. 5 in scoring in 2011-12, but they need to be stronger in their
own zone.

Youth is also a concern for Winnipeg. Evander Kane is just 21.
Alex Burmistrov is, too. And Mark Scheifele? Well, he’s just
19.

So, at times, the Jets will have to rely on players like Blake
Wheeler, who just seems to keep getting better after leading the
team with 64 points last season.

But Noel also wants to see a mental change in the rest of his
team. And just like everything else in the short season, he needs
that to happen quickly.

“I would just like us to start walking and behaving like
winners,” he said. “… That’s the attitude difference that I’d
like us to start thinking about.”

The Southeast Division is not easy, as Carolina and Tampa Bay
have made improvements, and Florida and Washington made the
playoffs last season. The Jets will have to continue to fight for
respect.

“But a lot of that is earned,” Noel said. “Teams that are
constantly above the line and in the playoffs, that just becomes a
normal everyday existence for them. We haven’t reached that point
yet.”

Ottawa won three of four over the Jets last season, winning 6-4
in both matchups at Winnipeg.