After a brief hiatus, our ‘3 Up, 3 Down’ column for the Ottawa Senators is back. Each week, we’ll reflect on key developments from the past seven days of hockey at the Canadian Tire Centre.
After a rocky start to the season, the Ottawa Senators have work to do. They sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with a 5-8-1 record and have a difficult week on the horizon. However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the team. They finished last week with a regulation win over the Philadelphia Flyers and showed signs of life in an overtime loss to the red-hot New Jersey Devils.
With that in mind, here are six key takeaways from the week that was for the Senators. There’s plenty to discuss.
Plus 1: Senators’ Stars Produce Vs. Flyers
The Senators tiptoed into Saturday’s (Nov. 12) contest versus the Flyers with a point to prove. They were – and still are – some way off the pace in their division and needed to prove that they could turn spells of pressure into positive results.
Finally, it clicked. The Senators entered the first intermission tied but pulled into a lead over the Flyers in periods two and three. Importantly, it was their stars – and Derick Brassard – who made the difference in the box score:
“It’s nice to see the puck go in the net,” said forward Alex DeBrincat. “Frustrating couple games before, it wasn’t going in, so it’s nice to get those in and hopefully keep going.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance by the Senators, who benefited from a penalty box parade from the Flyers, but it was enough to end their run of seven consecutive defeats. They should take confidence from the win.
Minus 1: Senators’ Nikita Zaitsev Waived
Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev was placed on waivers on Wednesday (Nov. 9) and went unclaimed. He has endured a miserable start to the season with the Senators, totaling just one assist in seven appearances.
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Zaitsev has also been scratched multiple times by head coach D.J. Smith, fell down the depth chart in the preseason, and has failed to live up to his $4.5 million contract. His last appearance came in a defeat to the Canucks, in which he was minus-two in just 11:47 of ice time.
“I’m supportive of all our players and that’s what a coach should be,” Smith said of Zaitsev before the 31-year-old cleared waivers. “That’s part of sports. The organization has made that choice. And it happens sometimes for all kinds of different reasons. If he gets claimed, I wish him all the best. If he doesn’t and he’s still a part of this, we’re going to work with him to get his confidence back.”
Plus 2: Farewell Magnus Hellberg
Netminder Magnus Hellberg was re-claimed on waivers by the Seattle Kraken on Thursday (Nov. 10). He joined the Senators earlier this season and provided injury cover for Cam Talbot, earning a win in his only appearance with the club.
Hellberg made quite an impact in Ottawa. He made 29 saves on 31 shots in a win over the Dallas Stars last month and was well-liked within the organization despite his short tenure.
“It came to a point with roster flexibility that Helly had to be put on waivers,” explained Smith on Thursday. “But he opened a lot of eyes and is a heck of a guy. I hope he gets picked up for his own career, but, if not, he’ll be a great guy for us to have as a recall.”
The 31-year-old made a spectacular save on Ty Dellandrea in his only start, a stop he told reporters was based solely on instinct.
“I was pretty confident it wasn’t a goal because I didn’t have my hand or stick in the net,” he explained at the Canadian Tire Centre. But he came with a lot of speed and I lost my edge trying to get over to the other post – so my only choice was to throw myself across. I saved it this time, which is always good.”
Hellberg’s time with the Senators was short but sweet. He returns to Seattle with plenty of goodwill in the bank.
Minus 2: Even in Victory, Senators’ Wobble Continued
In some respects, the score-line from the Senators’ 4-1 win over the Flyers doesn’t tell the whole story. DeBrincat scored a pair of power play markers, while Cam Talbot faced far more shots than his counterpart Carter Hart.
Talbot, who returned from the injury list at the start of the month, made 37 saves versus the Flyers and was the difference-maker on a busy afternoon in the crease. It also wasn’t the first time that the Senators have leaned on their netminder heavily, which was a factor in their painful loss to the Canucks.
While the Senators have made improvements from last season, some of the issues they face remain unresolved. They’re prone to allowing high-danger scoring chances and have seen the ice tilt heavily against them at times this season. In effect, they are still a work in process under Smith.
Plus 3: Opportunities Knock for the Senators This Week
The Senators have an opportunity to move up the standings soon, not least because they will spend the next seven days on home ice. Their week is bookended with difficult tasks versus the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, but a winnable game versus the Buffalo Sabres sits in between.
The Senators are six points beneath the wildcard spots but have played fewer games than the teams above them. Also of note: the difference between their record at home versus on the road. Their record on home ice sits at the .500-mark, while their record on the road has dipped to 1-4-1.
If the Senators can make the most of their upcoming homestand, they will find themselves in a better spot this time next week. Their playoff prospects shouldn’t be discounted yet, but they are under pressure to put points on the board quickly.
Minus 3: Senators Lose Thomas Chabot to Injury
The Senators snapped their run of defeats versus the Flyers but also lost top defenceman Thomas Chabot to injury. The 25-year-old suffered a concussion after he was checked from behind into the boards by forward Travis Konecny and will spend at least one week in the press box.
Chabot’s absence is a major issue for Smith, who relies heavily on his No. 1 defenceman in all situations. So far this season, he has averaged 25:45 time on ice and has six points (three goals, three assists) in 14 games.
Chabot’s injury also opens the door for Jacob Larsson to break into the lineup for the first time. He joined the Senators from the Anaheim Ducks/San Diego Gulls in the summer and has started the season strongly in the American Hockey League.
That’s it for the latest edition of Senators’ 3 Up, 3 Down. How are you feeling, with the team sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Division? Dip into the replies to join the conversation.
Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.