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Senators may face tough climb back to East final

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) The Ottawa Senators haven't had back-to-back playoff appearances since 2012-13, and pulling off the feat this season may prove difficult.

Last year, the Senators surprised much of the NHL with a deep playoff run to the Eastern Conference final that ended with a double overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the season opening this week, Ottawa captain and star defenseman Erik Karlsson wasn't a sure bet for the roster as he recovers from foot surgery he described as taking out "half of my ankle bone."

Part of the surgery included replacing a torn tendon, and Karlsson said there's definitely an adjustment. He will also have a new partner on the blue line after Marc Methot was lost in the expansion draft.

Karlsson will most likely be paired with the newly acquired veteran Johnny Oduya, who has earned coach Guy Boucher's admiration quickly with his solid, steady play.

"What an unbelievable acquisition," said Boucher. "He's the ultimate pro in the room. It's unbelievable what we got there."

Outside of Karlsson, the Senators will need to make some tough decisions regarding its blue line. Seven defensemen are on one-way contracts and Ben Harpur and Thomas Chabot are pushing for a spot.

Up front, the Senators will need Bobby Ryan to maintain his playoff scoring touch. After scoring just 13 goals through 62 games last season, Ryan led all Ottawa forwards in the playoffs with six goals and 15 points through 19 games.

"To get back to playing well and contributing and playing some of the bigger minutes meant a lot to me," Ryan said. "I think it taught me that I'm still capable of it, because you doubt yourself when you're going through a year like that. I'm going to try to identify with the player I was (during the playoffs), rather than the guy in the middle of the season."

Already without winger Clarke MacArthur, who failed his medical and isn't expected back soon, the Senators also lost highly touted rookie Colin White, who broke his wrist in the first preseason game, for six to eight weeks.

That puts ample pressure on a group that struggled to score goals last season, when the Senators finished 22nd, averaging just 2.51 goals per game.

The Senators can only hope that Kyle Turris, who is entering the final year of his contract, won't be distracted by the ongoing questions regarding negotiations and that Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone can contribute regularly.

Last season the Senators were able to circumvent offensive deficiencies thanks to Boucher's defense-first system.

"The fact that you're not learning and just re-tooling it will go a long way," said Ryan. "We had a learning curve about five to six weeks last year where we let games get away because we were second guessing the system and we won't have that this year because we've proven that it works."

With Craig Anderson and Mike Condon in net the Senators have a solid tandem. Last season Condon proved he's more than capable of handling a heavy workload as he carried the team while Anderson supported his wife through cancer treatments. The Senators recently signed the 36-year-old Anderson to a two-year contract extension.

The one area that absolutely needs to improve is special teams. With the power play and penalty kill finishing 23rd and 22nd, respectively, there is plenty of room for growth.

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Updated October 3, 2017

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