In a continuing series that examines the Tampa Bay Lightning’s opponents this season, we’ll take a closer look at the revamped Ottawa Senators. Last season, the Bolts lost only once to them, but it was an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at the Canadian Tire Centre on Dec. 11. They posted only 73 points last season, marginally ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. I believe the 2022-23 season will be different and so do many other NHL experts.
Mike Rupp of the NHL Network and former player, stated “The Ottawa Senators are one of my favorite teams to watch right now. What they did in this offseason – they’ve been building the last few seasons” (from NHL Tonight on Sept. 8, 2022).
Senators Add Plenty of Firepower To Boost Offense
Lightning general manager (GM) Julien BriseBois was not the only GM busy this offseason. His counterpart in Ottawa, Pierre Dorion, was busy adding proven offensive talents such as Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux. These additions shore up a young forward group that always seemed on the brink of breaking out.
When the Chicago Blackhawks held their fire sale and traded DeBrincat, most felt it was a huge mistake with very little in return for their emerging superstar. Having scored 41 goals last season, he is consistently among the top points producers in the league. The Michigan native, who will turn 25 in December, has played 368 games and scored 307 points over his five-year career in Chicago.
Filling out the offense is veteran winger Giroux. Selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2006 NHL Draft, he was the cornerstone of their team for 15 seasons before being traded to the Florida Panthers. Over the summer, he signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Senators. They will rely on the 34-year-old’s ability to score in the regular season and produce during the postseason if they secure a playoff spot.
Before trading for DeBrincat and Giroux, the Senators had some decent offensive weapons including Mathieu Joseph, the former Lightning forward, who played 11 games last season and scored 12 points. His presence adds depth to their offense along with center Josh Norris, who signed a six-year, $63.6 million contract. The 23-year-old was the first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2017. Tim Stützle, who was Ottawa’s first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, has played 79 games and scored 58 points. At only 20, he is still developing his game but should benefit from his new teammates.
Senators Make Offseason Goaltending Changes
Goalie Matt Murray only played 20 games for the Senators last season and never lived up to the team’s expectations, posting a 3.05 goals-against average (GAA) and .906 save percentage (SV%). The team traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs and retained Anton Forsberg, who played 46 games and held a 2.82 GAA and .917 SV%. Filip Gustavsson filled in the gap with 18 games last season but was underwhelming, finishing with a dreadful 3.55 GAA and .892 SV%. The Senators traded him to the Minnesota Wild on July 12, 2022, for veteran goalie Cam Talbot.
Having played 396 career games, Talbot’s 2.63 GAA and .915 SV% give the team stability that they desperately need and some Stanley Cup experience. His 33 postseason appearances saw him sustain a 2.51 GAA and .921 SV%. If Ottawa secures a playoff spot (and that’s a big if), Talbot will be a major contributor to that feat. At 35, he will need a good backup, and Forsberg should be serviceable in a lesser role.
Senators Need Defense To Produce
One area that has been of great concern for Ottawa is the defense. The roster looks very similar to last season, when the team allowed 266 goals, averaging 3.22 goals-against per game. which put them comfortably in the bottom half of the NHL.
Thomas Chabot, the Senators’ first-round draft pick in 2015, has turned into a solid two-way player. They rely on the 25-year-old who eats up a large chunk of ice time and is effective on both the penalty kill and power-play. He just needs to stay healthy. However, if he is out of the lineup, Swede Erik Brännström has taken steps to improve his game. Artem Zub is quickly becoming one of the most dependable defensemen for the team, as he averaged over 18 minutes of ice time as a rookie in 2021-22. Last season, he played 81 games and is showing that Dorion’s risk in acquiring the undrafted Russian is paying off so far.
Other than Chabot and Zub’s impressive performance on the Senators’ penalty kill last season, which ranked 13th in the league at 80.3 percent, there are a lot of questions regarding the remaining defensemen. If they are to make a run in the postseason, they will need to make more plays and add some offense to take pressure off their young forwards who will be targeted by opponents all season long.
How Do the Lightning Match Up With the Senators?
The Lightning recognize that preseason expectations can weigh heavy on a team. Being the “it” team can throw a team off its stride. There is a reason why teams like to fly under the radar without much media attention. Ottawa’s roster moves, coupled with the first-round picks they have been hoarding over the years, automatically make them a much better team. If the Lightning’s defense can contain their top scorers, their offensive lines begin to thin out. However, their emerging stars are talented, but young, as DeBrincat is 24, Brady Tkachuk is 22, and Stützle is only 20.
While their top guns may be young and fast, they can learn quite a bit from the Lightning’s veteran players such as Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point about performing in the limelight. I am sure their defense could definitely learn something from Victor Hedman about building a reputable two-way game.
There is no doubt that the Senators are going to be much improved this season, or else someone will be on the hot seat, as their fans have been waiting a while for the rebuild to pay off. The two teams play only one game before the end of the year, so it may take a while for the Bolts to evaluate their divisional opponent. However, for the Lightning, they are just another Atlantic Division foe they need to beat to make it to the Stanley Cup Final for a fourth-straight year.
Lydia Szyjka is a writer for The Hockey Writers. Growing up in Tampa, she graduated from H.B. Plant High School—never dreaming her Tampa Bay Lightning would win three Stanley Cups. She is director of communications for a Catholic university, where she is the editor of the alumni magazine. An avid hockey fan, she and her husband live in Delaware and watch every Lightning game on the NHL’s Center Ice.