As the Ottawa Senators continue to draw uncharacteristically small crowds early this season, more and more theories have emerged that attempt to explain the lack of interest in what looks like a winning team.
People have floated the tired old arguments that the rink is too far or the traffic is too bad (note: not a real issue). I’ve argued often and at length that the malaise that has settled over this team after 10 years of mediocrity is to blame.
But now, even as the Senators have compiled a 9-5-1 record through the first month of the season, a new theory has emerged: They’re too boring!
Without question, they have been super boring to watch this season. Over the past few years, the team’s identity has been based on running and gunning, treating structure and defence as an afterthought. This produced a lot of high-event hockey and, unfortunately, a lot of losing hockey.
This season, they’ve focused more of their efforts on neutral-zone trapping and have placed a strong emphasis on shot-blocking, resulting in a lot of close, low-scoring games. This is starting to show up in their numbers: although the Senators are posting a pretty bad Corsi% (48.3), their Fenwick%, which takes shot-blocking into account, puts them 11th in the league (50.5).
The team’s recent lack of goal-scoring is certainly concerning, but it’s also useful to note that they’re currently rocking a seven per cent shooting percentage, while the league average is typically around nine per cent. Some of this scoring slump might just be a matter of variance.
What’s confusing about the “boring” argument is that it contradicts previous claims that people were checking out because the cheapskate Senators weren’t using their lineup optimally – that they weren’t doing the things they needed to do to win. I imagine coach Guy Boucher quickly realized what he was working with and set about implementing a system that won’t win any style points, but that might actually result in a successful squad.
The fact is, this is a low-budget, low-talent roster that can’t run and gun with the NHL’s best. The way they’re going to win is to try and bring those other teams down to their level and give themselves a chance to win on any given night.
If the changes result in what looks like a playoff-bound group in the second half of the season, chances are more people will come around to the idea that boring is beautiful. They might even buy a ticket or two.