Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Are the Sens that bad? Part two: Defence

The Sens had a few problems--to put it nicely--last season, and defence was a huge one. Not just the team's defencemen, although many of them had their problems, but also a team-defence philosophy that would allow defencemen to have mistakes mitigated by backchecking forwards.

This year, with the acquisitions and hirings, should be different.


Defensively, the Sens' defence will definitely be better. Offensively, it might be a different story. The Sens' d-corps has changed significantly since last season, and only two players who started the year--Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips--remain from that top-six. And they remain for good reason; defensive responsibility. The newly-signed Jason Smith is in the same mould, and should fit into a defensive system very well. And, although one knock on Filip Kuba is that he can commit defensive gaffes, he led the Lightning with 131 blocked shots last year. Combining the shot-blocking abilities of those four, you've got to wonder if the goaltenders will see any rubber by year's end.

When looking for production for the defence, though, the Sens might have to look pretty far. A lot of hopes are going to be placed on Kuba to lead the Sens' offensive rush, at least on the powerplay. Rookie Brian Lee will also be given a lot of rope, and the hopes will be that he can lead the Sens' second powerplay unit and play as well as he did at the end of last season. In the sixth spot will be one of Christoph Schubert (a natural defenceman who's been playing forward [quite effectively] against his wishes for the last two seasons), Alex Picard (a relatively unseasoned defenceman with some offensive potential), or Brendan Bell (a successful AHLer who's had limited NHL success).

It may turn out that the biggest acquisition for the defence was actually behind the bench rather than on it. Craig Hartsburg had a ten-year career as a defenceman for the Minnesota North Stars, and the belief is that he will be preaching a defence-first system, and demanding (here's that all-important idea in Senators' circles again) accountability and responsibility from his players. It might mean a few less creative offensive plays, and hopefully it means Jason Spezza won't be among the league-leaders in giveaways, but it will certainly mean a bigger emphasis on team defence for 2008-09.
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