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.