The Ottawa Senators have had their share of highs and lows this season. The team was brilliant in December, posting an 8-4-2 record. However, 2023 hasn’t been kind to the club that’s pressing to reach the .500 level and beyond in order to thrust themselves into a race for a wildcard berth.
Despite reaching that elusive mark only eight days ago with a win in Arizona, the Senators have since dropped four of five, three by combined scores of 16-2, including Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets that left the majority of the 19,042 strong, coach’s, players and staff alike miffed.
Claude Giroux was among a few Senators’ players that expressed disappointment with the team’s overall game.
“Yeah for sure, I mean, where we were in the standings, and we’re looking like we’re going the right direction. And then you know, in Pittsburgh, we didn’t obviously didn’t play well. And tonight back to back, either you have legs or not, doesn’t matter. You’ve got to play your best.”
The generally upbeat Josh Norris offered a terse “Nothing” when asked what was said after the game. Norris along with Giroux who won 18 of 26 draws, including one that teed up Norris’ first goal since returning from his shoulder injury were the lone Senators’ bright spots in the loss.
Head coach D.J. Smith was equally dismayed with his team’s play. In the third period, Smith made the decision to make a subtle switch to the league’s fifth-ranked power play unit. The Senators’ head coach removed defenseman Thomas Chabot and forward Alex DeBrincat from his top unit, interchanging the pair for Jake Sanderson and Josh Norris from his second unit.
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After scoring a season-high four power play goals Wednesday at home versus the Penguins, Smith wanted to ice a different look after his club wasn’t generating scoring opportunities against the NHL’s second-ranked Jets penalty kill.
The Senators PP is now 0 for 7 in it’s past two games.
With a day off Sunday prior to returning to practice Monday, Smith and his staff have plenty of work to do.
Intimating he’s unhappy with his team’s play, Smith pledges to shuffle the lines at practice, wanting to have at least one player on each trio who will work through traffic and get to the net.
“The message is going to be it’s there’s only one way to win, and that is to grind. You’ve got to play off the forecheck. You’ve got to track and get to the net offensively. It doesn’t matter how much skill you have to score. When you look at one of goals they (Jets) scored, (Blake) Wheeler goes to the net. You have to have one guy that goes to the net. The one guy who does that pretty consistently for us is Brady, and he goes to the net. Right now when you look at it, there’s not enough guys that go to the net for whatever reason. It’s not easy when the other team’s D are good, but you want to score, you’ve got to get to the net.” Smith said postgame Saturday.
“We’re going to shuffle the top nine. There’s guys that are minus every night. That just can’t happen. That’s on me for allowing them to keep playing together. There are certain guys that play together, but if we’re getting scored on, it’s not working, so we’re going to put a worker on every line.”
While the head coach didn’t name any one individual, forward Drake Batherson leads the entire NHL with a minus-32. No Senators’ player is close to that number. Alex DeBrincat is next, sporting a minus-18 mark.
As much as the club’s power play is dangerous on any given night, their play during even strength is nowhere near desirable. The team possesses a negative 33-goal differential in all 5-on-5, 4-on-4, and 3-on-3 situations inclusive, though, on the bright side, the Senators are 4-2 in extra time.
An easy decision would be to shift Mathieu Joseph to Line 1. Joseph registered 10 points over four games during one stint last season. While those numbers are unsustainable, Joseph could offer a different dimension.
A potential move is to shake the roster by promoting forward Egor Sokolov from Belleville.
In a TSN1200 interview Thursday, Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion mentioned he’d like to give the American League Senators’ All-Star representative five to 10 games to display his wares at the NHL level before the season concludes. Now is as good a time as any to do so.
Giroux summed it up best when asked his opinion of his head coach shuffling the deck Monday, “That’s up to him and whatever the lines are. We’re going to have to figure it out and start winning some hockey games here.”
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