They don’t always win hockey games, but when they do, the Ottawa Senators seem to send shockwaves through the Canadian division.
In the span of a little over a week the Senators managed to complete the largest come from behind victory in franchise history (while simultaneously embarrassing the Leafs, always a welcome bonus). Then, their latest victory over Montreal (only a few weeks removed from thinking they were the cream of the crop in the North) resulted in the Canadiens firing their head coach.
In fact, things got so bad in Habs media land the other day, that GM Marc Bergevin had to remind the press that Ottawa was indeed one of 31 NHL teams, they’re a team on the rise, and that everyone needed to settle down. Anytime you’re taking a page out of the Pierre Dorion “we’re a team” playbook in an interview, all is clearly not well with your organization.
Hilarious as it may be to watch Leafs and Habs Twitter descend into the 7th circle of hell anytime they lose to the Senators, it’s worth pointing out that if you’re a casual viewer of hockey, you could do much worse than watching a Sens game on any given night. Come hell or high water, you’re likely going to see some interesting things on the ice whenever Ottawa is involved.
For starters, there’s the often frenetic pace at which the Sens games are played at. This seems especially true whenever the aforementioned Habs or Leafs are in town. The pace of play at times seems disjointed, reminiscent of a bubble hockey game, where bodies are flying in every which direction. That’s to be expected for this young team. With players shifting in and out of the lineups on a nightly basis, and DJ Smith’s almost comical commitment to shuffling the lines regardless of the previous games result (he’s clearly not a subscriber to the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”) players have yet to hit a groove with their linemates. Couple that with the fact that this is an extremely young team that is continually learning on the fly, and you’re bound to have some less than stellar zone breakouts.
Then you have the goals per game factor. Currently the league is averaging 5.71 goals per game collectively, with pundits south of the border openly wondering whether we need to look at increasing net size, reducing goalie equipment, and all the other old tropes that reporters trot out when goal scoring is down. Ottawa on the other hand currently sits at an average of 6.48 goals per game through their first 21 contests. Meaning that whether pucks are going in the opponents net, or their own, they’re likely to be involved in high scoring affairs.
Pierre Dorion is doing his best to keep things spicy off the ice as well, furiously working the phones in both the pre-season and now that the puck has dropped. No other GM in the league can claim to be as active as PD has been as we approach the midpoint of this shortened year. Which means you can rest assured, as the April 12th trade deadline approaches, there are still a couple moves to be made as far as the roster is concerned.
Further complicating the trade scenarios is the travel restrictions and quarantine periods that come with players heading north/south of the border. This could lead to teams being more active in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline than they have in the past (much to the chagrin of the TSN trade deadline panel who may be left with a lot of dead air time to fill on the 12th). And with rumblings around the league that star players like Jack Eichel, or Matthew Tkachuk could be on the move, you know that Dorion will at least kick the tires on a potential home run swing.
Which begs the question, if Ottawa continues to hang around the bottom of the standings, does the club look at flipping their 1st round pick for an impact player? There’s no consensus number 1 prospect in this year’s draft class, and the top players are defense heavy. Is Ottawa really content to draft another prospect and stash them away for 2-3 years, or do they think they’ve got enough in the system already that they can afford to move an asset like the (potential) number 1 pick in the draft for a top 6 forward who is NHL ready now? Hard to say, but with us already being in year 1 of the original “window to compete”, Dorion (and to a lesser degree Smith) are probably starting to feel like they need to show some tangible steps forward, otherwise they may not be around to reap the benefits of the rebuild a few years from now.
So you’ve got pace of play, you’ve got goal scoring, and off ice intrigue to boot as well. But perhaps the most compelling factor in watching the Sens night in, night out is seeing elite young prospects adjust to the NHL in real time. I’m still not fully convinced that Stutzle isn’t a product of German engineering who is taking in information on the fly before one day rising up to rule the NHL Skynet style. Brady Tkachuk is leading the Sens in a plethora of statistical categories and seems hell bent on proving he deserves a big pay day and the captaincy in the off season. And players like Norris, Batherson, Zub, Paul and Brannstrom are making strides every time they take the ice.
One could make the argument that 6 months ago, even the most die hard Senators fan couldn’t say for certain what the clubs top 6 forwards would look like 2-3 years from now. At this point, we’re now seeing the forming a strong nucleus that would include Tkachuk, Norris, Stutzle, Batherson + either Dadonov or whatever Dorion is able to bring in at the trade deadline. In a year where most are concerned about showing progress, finally having some confidence that you’ve got 4 out of your 6 spots secured for the future isn’t a bad thing.
This young talent is flat out fun to watch. Whether it’s the silky hands displayed by Norris and Stutzle in the shootout the other night, Brady Tkachuk becoming one of the preeminent power forwards in the league right before our eyes, or just the goofy looks they’re giving each other as they skate by the penalty box, or in warm ups, this is a team that looks like they’re gelling and enjoy playing with one another. As someone who can’t stand reality TV, even I have to admit that if there were a camera crew chronicling the antics of the Tkachuk/Norris/Stutzle household I would tune in.
Whatever your reason for watching, Sens games are at least compelling hockey. No one will be confusing them for the Lou Lamoriello led Devils of the 90’s in terms of defensive prowess, and frankly that’s fine by me. If we can cause the Toronto media to go on a William Nylander witch hunt, and the Montreal crew to fire their coaching staff before the midpoint of the season, I can only imagine what the rest of the year has in store.
Buckle up folks, we’ve still got 35 games to play.
Kyle Skinner | Sens Nation Hockey