Norris Injury Could Stall Senators’ Momentum

It’s not the news anyone wanted to hear after Josh Norris left the game on Saturday. During the Ottawa Senators‘ win over the Arizona Coyotes, the center went to the dressing room and did not return. Norris hasn’t been putting up major numbers yet this season, but he was building chemistry on the second line and showing signs of getting going. The Senators were gaining momentum, but this injury could cause a serious setback.

Not the First Time For Norris

On Monday, reports surfaced that Norris would be undergoing an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. So far, he’s been ruled out for at least a week or two. He appears to be facing another shoulder injury, a tough break for a young player, as he’s recently missed significant time for a similar concern. That last injury helped cut his 2021-22 campaign to just 66 appearances, so it’s not an ideal situation for someone who’s been fighting to be the top center on a team on the rise.

Josh Norris Ottawa Senators
Josh Norris, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This is a continuation of an injury initially sustained back during the 2019 World Junior Championship. While that injury really only disrupted Norris’ NCAA season and international play, it’s clearly had an impact on his well-being moving forward and is the third time he’s faced a shoulder injury in his short career. The Senators were likely looking forward to having a fully healthy squad, but with Norris out, the initial move appears to be bringing in veteran and fan favourite Derick Brassard into the second-line center spot.

Senators Shuffling the Lineup

It’s been tough sledding for Norris so far this season. He’s just now found the back of the net and is shooting just 12.5 percent, down from his shooting percentage of 20.35 a season ago. With the makeup of this team, head coach DJ Smith has shuffled the lines to try and create a 1A/1B situation for the team’s forward group, moving Tim Stützle to the first line and bringing Norris back to the second. Now with him out, he’s elected to bring in Brassard to fill that gap.

Josh Norris Ottawa Senators
Josh Norris, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Brassard checking in on the second line, there’s a bit more of a clear delineation of what line is the top line. While some fans may be confused as to why Smith would inject him into the second line right away, the most likely scenario is that the third line has been absolutely buzzing, Pinto in particular. While I’m of the belief that much of that is on Pinto himself, it makes sense that Smith doesn’t want to shuffle that line and risk what they’ve got rolling. Personally, I’d love to see what Pinto could do in an advanced role alongside Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, but that’s just me.

Senators Can Survive, But Can They Thrive?

While he hasn’t consistently found his scoring touch yet this season, Norris has already played an important role for the team. His two-way play has been strong, and he’s been key in the faceoff circle, winning 57.89 percent of his draws. The Senators can live without his offence for now as Giroux and DeBrincat have been connecting well, the top line has been buzzing, and the third line has seen Pinto be consistent. The struggle will be replacing Norris’ two-way play. DeBrincat can fill in, as he’s no stranger to a 200-foot game, and it’s the same for Giroux. The second line has been consistently playing a two-way minded game, finding their scoring chances generating in the defensive and neutral zone. Norris is a key contributor to those neutral zone plays, especially starting the rush. For Brassard, he’ll need to learn quickly how to stick to their game plan.

The Senators’ first game without Norris may also see them without Anton Forsberg. As Magnus Hellberg potentially jumps in for him, this could be a critical point in the season for the Senators. Facing a red-hot Dallas Stars squad, the team will need to be ready to compete in a way they haven’t yet had to this season. With the Stars’ high-powered offense coming from the forwards and the defense, they’ll have their work cut out for them defensively. Norris’ injury removes a key two-way player to help share that load. After starting with two losses, the Senators found their groove once they hit home ice, winning three straight games. This represents the first real test for this refreshed squad, so let’s see how they handle it.

*Editor’s note: The Senators won this game in convincing fashion by a score of 4-2.

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