NHL

Mendes: Why are the Sens so much better with Kassian?

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Ian Mendes, TSN Radio 1200
1/21/2014 11:26:05 AM
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Maybe we need to start calling it "Kassian Karma."

Whenever Matt Kassian plays, the Ottawa Senators seem to pick up points and when the winger isn't in the lineup, they have struggled.

The Sens forward has dressed for roughly half of the games this season and the contrasting record when he is in and out of the lineup is rather remarkable.

They have lost only three times in regulation out of the 24 games that Kassian has been a part of, posting a 13-3-8 record. But when Kassian doesn't play, they have a woeful 8-16-1 record in 25 games.

On Monday, I approached Kassian to see if he was aware of the team's outstanding record with him in the lineup.

"Yeah I knew," Kassian said immediately. "When you are a guy who goes in and out of the lineup, you pay attention to things like that. You want to be a guy that, when you're in the lineup, the team has success. It's been fortunate for me that so far we have."

The simple explanation would be that perhaps the Senators skilled forwards feel like they have a little more room to operate on a night when Kassian is sitting on their bench. Maybe the opposition is a little less inclined to take liberties with Ottawa players if they have to answer to Kassian. But even Kassian agrees that is likely an oversimplification of the situation.

"There are probably more factors to it than just that," he said. "You hope it's because the team has an identity where they're going to go out and play and just get things done and maybe give them some confidence. That's what you hope for."

Other Sens players can't necessarily identify the phenomenon, either.

"I don't know the real reason for it, other than we've timed our games well and he's played well when he's played," explains captain Jason Spezza. "He's a guy that when he plays, he's a physical presence out there. He understands his role and he's done a really good job of just keeping things simple when he plays.

But it's also strange that Ottawa's record would be so good with Kassian in the lineup, considering he hardly sees the ice when he plays. He averages 4:23 of ice-time per game – although that number has been slightly north of six minutes per game in the month of January. In a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in December, Kassian played just 1:05 and followed that up with just 2:20 of ice time in the next game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Remarkably, the Sens picked up three out of a possible four points in those games.

"It depends on the night. Some of those nights where I haven't played there have been a lot of penalties and special teams – and I don't play on special teams. Instantly, that cuts it down," says Kassian. "And the guys who need to play 5-on-5 are your big guys, so there could be some weird nights like that. Especially at the start of the season when we basically had a parade to the penalty box."

It turns out that Kassian's limited ice time may actually benefit the other 11 forwards, who often see increased ice time on those nights. While many people like to see their team roll four lines consistently, it appears as though this year's edition of the Sens seem to thrive on the nights when they are playing with three-and-a-half lines.

"It's better for me. I prefer when I play more, I think I play better," said Spezza. "If you play more when he's in the lineup, that might help everybody a little bit. But he really understands his role and he does a good job. He gets some good shifts early in the game and if they shorten the bench, he's fine with it I think."

There is also the matter of the Senators being a perfect 5-0-0 when Kassian drops the gloves and fights this season.

"I would expand on that and say look at our team's record as a whole when we fight, whether it's me or someone else," said Kassian. "That might just be preparedness and being engaged in the game as a team – not just me as an individual. When we're aggressive and ready to play, when we're ready to fight – not that you have to – those are the games that we're more invested in emotionally."

For the record, the Sens are 5-5-1 in games when someone other than Kassian gets into a fight. So once again, the "Kassian Karma" seems to be in effect when it comes to this realm as well. In any event, Kassian can't put his finger on exactly why his team is so much more successful when he plays and when he fights – although he is hoping his rugged style does rub off on his teammates.

"You hope it's a general identity and an attitude the team has that you help them with when you're in the lineup and that's the reason," said Kassian.

The Sens are back in action on Tuesday night when they visit the Washington Capitals, a team they've enjoyed recent mastery over, having won their last six encounters.

You can catch all the action live on TSN at 7pm et/4pm pt.

Matt Kassian (Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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