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Ottawa's 2021 Season, Reviewed in 5-game Segments, Unveils Hope for the Future

The Sens have just concluded their best five game sequence in this unique 2021 season. They came out of it with a 3-2-0 mark. They scored 15 goals in the five games.

I’m sure we can all agree that the Ottawa Senators of today are much better than the Sens we saw back around January 25 when they (and we) were enduring their horrendous three-game series on the west coast against the Vancouver Canucks. The team has played twenty games now as they head into their game on Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, and I thought it might be a bit instructional to take a look back at the schedule they have played thus far in five game segments.

The season started off in a very promising fashion as the Senators faced the Toronto Maple Leafs at home back on January 15. Whether the Leafs were taking them lightly or they got themselves highly motivated, they worked to surprise Toronto 5-3. Brady Tkachuk had a goal and two assists in that game. Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Nikita Zaitsev each notched a pair of assists as well. Even in the following game in Ottawa against the Buds, a 3-2 loss, there were signs that these Sens might be able to live to that old “pesky” moniker. Toronto outshot Ottawa 40-19 and Matt Murray was strong in goal but the Senators couldn’t muster enough to get a win. Ottawa hosted the Winnipeg Jets next and for twenty minutes, the home team looked great in outplaying the visitors. The Sens even held a lead late into the third period until Blake Wheeler scored to force overtime. Nikolai Ehlers scored for Winnipeg to give them the win. But hey, Ottawa managed a point and had a .500 record after their first three games. And that allowed their fans a bit of hope to cling to. That hope was quickly extinguished though. Successive losses in the next two games to the Jets, one in the nation’s capital and another back in Manitoba made Ottawa fans take pause. The Sens lost the first 4-1 at home. In the game in Winnipeg, the Sens held a 3-2 lead heading into the third period. But four unanswered Jets’ goals allowed the home team to leave the building with a 6-3 victory. After those five games, the Sens were 1-3-1. They had scored 14 goals and allowed 20. The opposing teams had outshot them 158-134. A look at their special teams was not especially pretty. Their power play was sputtering at a 15% clip and their penalty kill was sitting at 75%. One stat stood out though and needed to be better. The shared save percentage for Matt Murray and Marcus Hogberg was .879. On to Vancouver to start their next five-game segment. As Steve Martin’s character in the movie The Jerk, Navin R. Johnson, might have said, “Roll The Ugliness”. The Senators played three consecutive games on the left coast. They scored a total of three goals in those games. They lost 7-1, 5-1 and 4-1. There was not much to be positive about. Nick Paul was the only Ottawa player to post a “plus” in the first game (+1). Filip Chlapik did the same in the third game. Things got worse for the team as they headed to Edmonton. The duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl came out blazing and less than fourteen minutes into the first period, the Oilers were up 5-1. Matt Murray allowed three goals on nine shots. He was replaced by Hogberg. The big Swede fared only a little better giving up five goals on 22 shots. Ottawa mounted as much of a comeback as they could but it was way too little way too late. They lost 8-5. In the rematch, Edmonton doubled up on Ottawa 4-2. Thomas Chabot played over 28 minutes in that game and was the only Sens’ player to post a “plus” at +1. This five-game segment was the worst of the season in their first twenty matches. They surrendered 28 goals in that span and scored only ten even though they outshot their opponents 179-151. The power play was only 3-for-13, a 13% pace, and their penalty kill was an atrocious 64.7%. Worse still, their save percentage was a lowly .815. The Senators now sat at 1-8-1 and were looking wayyyyy up at the rest of the Canadian Division. D.J. Smith referred to the mood of the team as “fragile”. And no wonder, given the way they had played on their six-game Western swing. Oh well, at least they were coming back east for a while, right? Maybe some smoked meat et chien-chauds might improve the mood of the team, and by extension, their play. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but hey, a fan can dream, eh? Who knew what to expect when the Sens travelled to Montreal for a Thursday night game against Les Canadiens. Brendan Gallagher opened the scoring for the Habs 10:31 into the game. But two goals 18 seconds apart by Chabot and Tim Stuetzle near the end of the first period gave the visitors a 2-1 lead. Connor Brown added one eight minutes into the second and Ottawa took a 3-1 lead into the third. Josh Anderson got one back for Montreal with a minute and a half left in regulation, but that was all they could get. Matt Murray played his best game of the season and the Sens came home with a 3-2 win. Murray stopped 30 of 32 in the rematch in Ottawa but Montreal eked out a 2-1 decision. Next up for the Senators was a two-game set with those Oilers again at the Canadian Tire Centre. Edmonton won the first one 3-1. In the second game, Ottawa fired as much rubber as they could at Mikko Koskinen, outshooting the Oilers 42-22, but they still came out on the short end of a 3-2 score. The final game of the segment saw the Sens travel to Winnipeg for the first of two against the Jets. Murray did not bring his A-game for this first one. He gave up three goals in fifteen shots and lasted only forty minutes. Hogberg played the last frame and the Senators dropped another one, this time by a 5-1 score. The Sens went 1-4 in this stretch and their record now sat at 2-12-1 after fifteen games. They scored just eight goals in these five games while giving up fifteen as well. Their weak offensive numbers were emphasized by their anemic power play which went just 1-for 15. They gave up just two goals while a man short though out of 14 kills. One bright spot for the team was the fact that this was the first segment in which their goalie tandem posted a save percentage over .900. Murray and Hogberg combined for a .908, facing 152 shots. The first game of this fourth segment took place in Winnipeg. After the 5-1 loss a couple of nights earlier, an afternoon tilt might be just what the doctor ordered. It took a while but the Jets scored first as Mark Scheifele scored his sixth of the year, beating Hogberg at 5:43 of the second period. But Evgenii Dadonov tied the game less than two minutes later. The Jets buzzed around the Sens goal after that but Hogberg was up to the task. There were fears that he had lost his way when the Sens were going through their agonizing losing binge earlier but on this day, the Swede was as good as he had been all year. And with just eight seconds left in regulation, Brady Tkachuk deflected a point shot by Mike Reilly past Connor Hellebuyck and Ottawa was tasting victory one more time. Lightning struck again for the Sens in the following game, but in the most unlikely scenario as they headed for Toronto to play the Leafs. As Ottawa was sneaking out of Winnipeg having stolen two points, the blue team was coming off a maddening loss to Montreal. Surely the Buds would be eager to take out their frustrations on their lowly opponents. After all, they had been one of the only teams in the league not to have lost two straight games all season. And Ottawa was one of the few teams to have never won two games in a row. It looked like the Leafs would cruise to that victory. They held a 5-1 lead with less than a minute remaining in the second period and many in Ottawa turned off this game to watch something that might be more cheerful. Then Nick Paul decided to become a catalyst for change. He took a pass from Austin Watson and deposited a shorthanded goal past Freddie Andersen to make the score 5-2 heading into the intermission. Artem Zub was in the penalty box to start the third and as soon as he exited there, he took a nice pass from Chris Tierney and went in all alone on Andersen. He put on a pretty move and before you could say “spasiba”, it was 5-3. There were still more than nineteen minutes to go in this game! A little over five minutes later, Connor Brown scored and the nail biting would begin in earnest in the provincial capital. When Dadonov scored with just over two minutes left in the third, it was all tied up! The buzzer sounded. Ottawa had absconded with at least one point. What would overtime bring? D.J. Smith put the young guys out there to start the extra period. And their speed and conditioning paid off in terms of territorial play. Then, just over two minutes in, Dadonov tallied once again to give the Sens victory. In Toronto, fans were apoplectic. The call-in shows were afire with angry fans seeking to place blame anywhere they could. Such is life in Hogtown though after a Leafs loss. In the second game of their three in Toronto, Matt Murray played well but the Leafs pulled out a 2-1 win. They demolished Ottawa 7-3 in the third game. The good news was that the Sens had salvaged at least one win out of the series. And they were preparing for a Sunday night contest at home with the Habs one more time. It would be Murray in goal for the Senators and Jake Allen giving Carey Price a night off for Montreal. The Canadiens got on the board early as Nick Suzuki scored his fourth of the year. Drake Batherson answered back with his fourth later in the period. Josh Norris scored early in the third to give Ottawa a lead and then it was time to wait and agonize. Minute after minute, the Sens withstood the Montreal attack. Wave after wave approached and were turned away by Murray and the Ottawa D. Finally, Corey Perry put a nice move on Erik Gudbranson down the left side and managed to get one past Murray and this game was tied. Once again, the teams were heading for overtime. The Sens players were buzzing in the extra stanza. Brady Tkachuk was the best player on the ice in that span of time. It was fitting that he was able to score the winner 3:30 in. Drake Batherson and Erik Brannstrom got the helpers. This game concluded the best five game sequence that this team has played in this unique 2021 season. They came out of it with a 3-2-0 mark. They scored 15 goals in the five games. They killed 10-of-13 penalties in those games but their power play was lifeless going 0-for 13. They got strong goaltending and looking back over their last ten games, their save percentage is at .901. There are a lot of positive signs as we look forward to the next group of games. Yes, they need to desperately improve their power play but their overall game has improved significantly since that disastrous Western road trip. The younger players are getting more playing time as the calendar passes and that is nothing but a good thing. I remember Brian Kilrea saying a long time ago,

“There comes a time in every season where rookies aren’t rookies anymore”. We are seeing the genesis of that now and it gives all Senators fans something to be hopeful for as we look to the future.

Howie Mooney | Sens Nation Hockey


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