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Ottawa Senators’ lack of chemistry leads to firing of Coach Paul MacLean

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Ottawa Senators on Monday fired Coach Paul MacLean, who recently won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year (2013) after the Senators went 25-17-6 in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. But this season Ottawa just couldn’t get traction in the Eastern Conference, sitting in 10th place with a 11-11-5 record. And based on the projected standings, the Senators’ fortunes weren’t likely to turn anytime soon.

The issues with the team are many, starting with the coach not instilling the confidence you would expect from a leader.

The Senators’ even-strength shot attempts have declined in each year since the 2012-13 season, and this season they have the lowest even-strength goal differential since 2010-11, when they were dead last in the league (41.6 percent of even-strength goals).

Part of the problem was a lack of team chemistry. The team’s best-producing line — Mark Stone, Curtis Lazar and Mike Hoffman — registered just 12 points as a trio, well outside the top 50 for the league.

Most of those issues come from improper talent evaluation, such as player deployment.

I’m not sure MacLean has been doing that. His line juggling doesn’t allow for chemistry to build and his player usage is sometimes baffling. Does David Legwand really need to be on the first line powerplay unit? Is Alex Chiasson really suited to be up against Sidney Crosby in the dying minutes of a tied hockey game? I imagine you’re shaking your head “no” to both of those situations.

And even improper expectations.

By his own words, MacLean started to expect more from his players, which he justified by saying that in his third year coaching, he felt that it was necessary to make some adjustments to take the team to the next level. Given that explanation, and the fact that both management and ownership publicly said that the team was ready to contend and handed MacLean a three-year extension, I think it’s fair that MacLean thought that it was time to expect more out of his young, but talented group. However, it appears to me that this change in expectation manifested itself more when it came to evaluating the play of skilled players than when it came to evaluating the play of depth players. There were multiple instances where Colin Greening and Chris Neil were playing more than Mika Zibanejad. How does that happen?

But with the change made, don’t expect a major improvement like we have seen after other coaching changes in the past: The Senators weren’t saddled with poor puck like some of those underwhelming teams. For example, the Senators are shooting 7.1 percent this season at even strength and saving 93.1 percent of those shots against, putting them at league average for PDO, a proxy for “puck luck.” That means any major bump in their goal differential will have to come from possessing the puck more, not getting more bounces.

There is a bright side: This team has a lot of young, talented players, starting with 24-year-old defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson won the Norris Trophy in 2011-12 after scoring 78 points in 81 games while skating over 25 minutes a night, and is on a 61-point pace this season skating more than 27 minutes a night. Plus, he is a driver of the offense, creating 3.9 shots per game.

With skill like that on the blueline, this team won’t be out of playoff contention for long.