And that’s too bad for a team that’s finally realized what they have to do to win.
For some teams, it can be a case of too little too late, but that’s not what this season was about for the Senators. The 2021 campaign was about growth and forging an identity for future seasons.
If this is what the club set out to do from the outset, then their mission was a successful one.
The growth of Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk is evident, on and off the ice. Their playing abilities speak for themselves. Case in point, Wednesday versus the Vancouver Canucks, Chabot notched one goal, one assist while logging 26:12 on the blue line. Tkachuk matched his teammate, adding a fight to complete his first “Gordie Howe hat trick.” Tkachuk also fired a team-high, six shots on goal.
Chabot ranks second league-wide in ice-time, averaging 26:42. Tkachuk currently sits second in hits (215) and is tops in shots on goal (201), but will likely finish behind Maple Leaf Auston Matthews in this category when the final horn sounds on the regular season.
Off the ice, the pair display their leadership skills, lending thoughtful answers on a nightly basis via Zoom, which at times is tough to do, especially due to the nature of its setting.
Chabot noted after the Senators 6-3 win Wednesday, “This is what we want to do as a group, is really start building for next year, and really create ourselves an identity. And I think we’ve done that. I think other teams in our division are realizing that it’s harder than they expect or they thought to play against us. That shows a lot for us as a group. We obviously want to keep building on that.”
Youngsters such as forwards Drake Batherson and surprising rookie centre Josh Norris already ahead of the curve. 19-year-old Tim Stützle is well on his way. Throw speedsters Alex Formenton and Shane Pinto into the mix of late, and the Senators have become a challenging club to face.
The team is a far cry from the one that opened 2-12-1 in their first 15 outings and holds a record of 17-15-3 since February 13.
“I think we just realized we’re a really fast team, and whenever we play fast and put pucks behind a team and really stay on top of them, we don’t really give the other team a whole lot. That helps everybody. As defenseman, we hold our gaps a little better. It helps our goalies to see less shots. In front of our net, we box out guys, they see the puck a lot better,” explained Chabot on what has changed since the beginning of the season.
Tkachuk re-iterated Chabot’s words, “What we went through the start of the year, and the adversity we faced, the only way to get out was by work ethic – working collectively. That’s what we did. Right now we’re playing with a lot of swagger, a lot of jam. It’s fun to be a part of right now. We’re definitely leaving it all out there. Every day we can look ourselves in the mirror and know we put it all in.”
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Another player who’s become part of the Senators’ young leadership group is Nick Paul. The 26-year old inked a two-year deal in the off-season, and is arguably one of the most improved performers on the team, if the not the entire league.
“This year we didn’t have the best start. We really want to come together as a team. We have all the right pieces in the room. This last stretch here shows how really good we are as a team. We play together. We play the right way. We’re just building and building for next year. We want to hit the ground running next year. This is a great start. We’re learning how to play, learning how to keep leads,” noted Paul.
“We want more. We think we can make a great push if there were more games. It is what it is. We’ve got to build off these games, have a good summer, so we can hit the ground running next year. You go into summer confident. You come to camp. You’re excited. You’ve already built chemistry. You’ve learned how to play together. Early on in the season the games are huge. If we’re up by a goal – when it gets to the third period, we know exactly how to close it out.”
The Senators will likely close out their 56-game campaign anywhere from 27th to as high as 24th in the overall standings. Wherever they land, it’ll be an improvement on their 30th place finish last season.
“I don’t think it we’re looking much at the standings,” said head coach D.J. Smith. “I think it’ll be great to finish ahead of someone. For me the biggest thing is to keep developing these guys and continue to work on what makes us as great as team.”