With already 10 games postponed due to cases of Covid-19 and potential cross-border issues, a mainly healthy Ottawa Senators’ squad was prepped and ready to head to Vancouver Friday to play their first of what was slated to be a four-game Western Canada road trip. However, the team was dealt yet another blow. Originally, what was scheduled to be a five-game swing opening in Seattle Thursday, was whittled down to two games in Alberta, versus Edmonton Monday and Calgary Thursday due to Covid indoor events restrictions.
The Canucks didn’t want to play on a Saturday night with 50 percent capacity. Likewise, the Winnipeg Jets echoed the same sentiment for the following Saturday. In fact, there are only 250 people permitted in the Canada Life Centre.
Understandably, frustration is starting to settle in for the Ottawa Senators coaching staff and players, who by the time they hit the ice Monday in Edmonton, will have played two games in 23 days.
“To be blatantly honest, it’s like August when you’re waiting for the action to come and you know push hard – you’re excited – and then you realize, you’re still three-four days away from camp opening. So, it’s been really strange, but all you can do is get ready for the next game.” said Senators’ head coach D.J. Smith post-practice.
“Certainly, today practice changed from what we thought we were going to do for Vancouver. We were going to leave for Vancouver. Obviously, that’s not happening, so we went back to more details again. And we’re just going to keep doing that until they tell this we’re going to play.”
There’s only so much practising players can do. Young players are excited about the prospect of playing in different cities.
Smith added. “Today was probably disappointing for them. Young guys, they just want to get on the plane. It’s different when you have a wife and kids at home, and you’re missing your kids when you go on long road trips. There’s some guys in the room that have that. These young guys are excited to get on the plane, excited to go on the road. It’s new for them. And playing in these Canadian cities that have fans, and now there’s no fans for them. You could see a little bit today, they were frustrated. They wanted to get playing, but there’s nothing you can do.”
Defenseman Thomas Chabot who hit the ice for the first time since being placed in Covid-19 Protocol along with forwards Zach Sanford and Chris Tierney echoed his head coach’s sentiment.
“It’s tough. Don’t get me wrong, we all like to practice, but we want to play the games. We want to be in games as much as you can, but obviously, it’s hard right now. It’s hard on everyone right now when games get cancelled. You just want to go on the ice and play another team, play against different guys, and try and win hockey games,” waned Chabot.
Chabot understands hockey is a business, and it’s best to play in front of as many fans as possible.
“It’s not easy for anyone right now. But at the same time, it’s what we’re going through. There’s Covid on every team, whether it’s financially, it’s what we’re going through right now. For how many years we’ve been playing in the NHL, we love having fans. We love having fans in the building. They bring so much to the game. They bring energy to the building whenever you score a goal.”
Including the latest postponements, the Ottawa Senators currently have 12 games to makeup – eight home and four away games. The team has played only 29 games this season. The New York Islanders are the lone club that’s played fewer (28).
Conversely, the Vegas Golden Knights are already up to 37 games played.
The majority of Ottawa Senators’ postponed games will be rescheduled for February, There’s also a handful of available dates in late March for the team, plus the league may decide to extend the schedule an extra week or two if necessary beyond April 30.
One issue remains for the Senators themselves; there are another five home dates on the docket between January 18 and 31, and it’s unclear if the team will play those games in what may be an empty Canadian Tire Centre.
A bonus of sorts – when the team does actually play their make up games, barring injury, they will potentially post an optimal lineup.
The Senators’ head coach is happy to have this silver lining to cling to, “Excited though, you have to look at the positive in everything. We played through this in November, before anyone kind of dealt with this. We had two and three, and 13 guys out with this – and we were still playing. So, as bad as it is to play the games, we’ll be playing the games with healthy guys,” explained Smith.
“Re-playing the games with “Whitey” (Colin White) who will be back. (Shane) Pinto will be back because the season will be lengthened. We’re going to have more that looks like our team. At the end of the day, you want to play with the best players available to you. Unfortunately, we haven’t been playing (with the best available players). All this time is allowing our players to come back. And we’re really only down to two or three guys that tested positive, and we’ll be able to run a full lineup, and really see what we’ve got.”
Everyone recognizes there’ll be a tight window to fit in what is currently 53 games remaining in the campaign. The schedule may be their enemy, but there should be more ice-time available for the Senators’ youngsters, and that may include University of North Dakota d-man Jake Sanderson in mid-April.
“As a coach, you want as little back-to-backs as possible. It’s not really the back-to-backs, the worse thing, it’s the four in six’s with travel. Those are probably the scenarios you don’t want, but you’re going to run into those, and we have lots of bodies. We’re going to have lots of young guys here as well, that are going to be available to us – a lot are home games. I believe, nine or ten of them, so if you’ve got to bring up guys from Belleville, they’re right here.”
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