Senators’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Zaitsev’s Form, Chabot’s Ice Time & More

Welcome to the third edition of our ‘3 Up, 3 Down’ column for the 2022-23 Ottawa Senators. We’ll be publishing this series at the start of each week, reflecting on the highs and lows from the previous seven days.

Ottawa Senators 3 up, 3 down
Ottawa Senators 3 up, 3 down (The Hockey Writers)

The Senators saw their record drop to 4-4-0 in the second week of the season. They opened with a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars, but then fell to back-to-back losses versus the Minnesota Wild (2-4) and Florida Panthers (3-5).

In the Senators’ defeat to the Panthers, Anton Forsberg faced a remarkable 57 shots and still left the arena with a .930 save percentage. While his performance wasn’t enough to steal a win, it proved once again that he is a capable starter in the NHL.

With that in mind, here are three positive and three negative developments from the week that was for the Senators. There’s plenty to unpack.

Plus 1: Drake Batherson’s Production

Drake Batherson has slipped under the radar with a run of impressive production. He has featured on the scoresheet in seven out of eight appearances and leads the Senators in points (11) and assists (eight) this season.

The 24-year-old has chipped in with at least a point in six consecutive games and shows no signs of slowing down alongside Tim Stützle and Brady Tkachuk. He has also benefited from the Senators’ offseason reshuffle and recently told reporters that his new teammates have impressed him.

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“The guys in this room have been here for a while now and we’re starting to figure it out,” Batherson said of the team’s mentality. “The new guys have brought a lot of experience and, going into the third period [versus the Stars], we knew exactly what to do. We just have that confidence.”

If the 6-foot-3 forward continues to produce at his current rate, his $4.9 million cap hit will feel inexpensive by the end of the season. Batherson’s form is an encouraging development for the Senators.

Minus 1: Josh Norris’ Injury Status

Josh Norris suffered a shoulder injury versus the Coyotes last Saturday (Oct. 22) and the situation hasn’t improved since. In fact, he could miss the rest of the season according to head coach D.J. Smith.

“If at some point we get him back, great,” he explained said after practice on Wednesday (Oct. 26). “When you hear ‘long term,’ you’re thinking three months, four months, five months, six months.”

Before leaving the Senators’ 6-2 win over the Coyotes early, Norris had two points (one goal, one assist) in five games and ranked third in ice time amongst forwards on the team. He also missed time with a shoulder injury last season.

Josh Norris Ottawa Senators
Josh Norris, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Different injury than the last one, same shoulder, different injury,” Smith said. “Is he going to require surgery or not? We’re in the middle of that right now. We’ll know a little more in the next four-five days but it’s long-term.”

Norris – who inked an eight-year extension in July – will be a difficult player for the Senators to replace. He set career-highs in goals (35), assists (20), and points (55) and led the franchise in faceoff percentage last season. His injury is a major blow for Ottawa but presents an opportunity for Shane Pinto to step into a top-six role.

Plus 2: Magnus Hellberg’s Impressive Debut

Cam Talbot’s injury dented an impressive offseason for the Senators. It left them without their presumptive starter and exposed their lack of depth between the pipes. However, an impressive debut from waiver wire arrival Magnus Hellberg has cooled the situation. The 31-year-old made 29 saves as the Senators overcame the Stars, earning praise from his coach and teammates.

“He did a great job,” said Smith. “He was outstanding and obviously gave us a real opportunity to win.”

Brady Tkachuk added: “He was great tonight. He made huge saves, especially the one in the second period on a breakaway – that could’ve put them up by two and made it a lot harder for us. He played amazing for us and he’s an awesome guy. I’m happy that he gets rewarded.”

Related: 3 Takeaways From Senators’ 4-2 Win Over Stars – 10/24/22

The Senators should take encouragement from Hellberg’s debut as he showed that he can handle difficult assignments. If Forsberg needs a rest in the weeks ahead, Smith shouldn’t be fazed by the idea of playing his backup.

Minus 2: Nikita Zaitsev’s Poor Start

It isn’t a coincidence that the Senators have struggled defensively since Nikita Zaitsev entered the lineup. The 31-year-old has played three games this season, all of which ended in defeat.

Zaitsev wasn’t the only poor performer versus the Panthers, but his sloppy play on the puck and vulnerability in the defensive zone had a major impact on the result. The Russian is low on confidence and it shows up in his advanced analytics:

Ultimately, the former Toronto Maple Leaf is a shadow of his former self and has been overtaken by the likes of Jake Sanderson and Erik Brännström. If the Senators find an opportunity to offload Zaitsev’s $4.5 million cap hit, they should take it.

Plus 3: Senators Keep Pace in Competitive Atlantic Division

The Senators are still in a decent position in the Atlantic Division, despite sitting at bottom of the standings with a 4-4-0 record. Aside from the Boston Bruins, who started the season with eight wins in nine games, nobody has proven themselves as true contenders yet.

While the Buffalo Sabres are 6-3-0, it’s fair to wonder if their tandem’s early form is sustainable. Meanwhile, the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have had bumpy starts, with neither team performing consistently in the first few weeks of the season. The Montreal Canadiens are fifth in the division but could soon tumble down the standings. In sixth and seventh are the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, the only squads in the Atlantic who are playing below the .500 mark.

With that said, it isn’t the end of the world that the Senators are sitting at the bottom of their division. They have the third-best goal differential in the Atlantic and have made progress as a group after a busy summer. The future is still bright.

Minus 3: Thomas Chabot’s Sky-High Ice Time

Thomas Chabot’s ice time has already become a point of discussion at Canadian Tire Centre, not least because he played 29:16 in Saturday’s loss versus the Panthers. Per Hockey Reference, his average time on ice for the season is 25:58.

Thomas Chabot Ottawa Senators
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 25-year-old’s usage is divisive because he spends more time on the ice when the Senators are trailing, which has led some pundits to conclude that Ottawa is better off when he plays less. They aren’t necessarily wrong.

The Senators are too reliant on Chabot, who leads the league in five-on-five ice time, but they are boxed into their current strategy. While he would benefit from carrying a lighter load, the team’s lack of defensive depth would be exposed if his ice time was cut. As a result, the situation is unlikely to change until Dorion adds another high-quality player to his blue line. Perhaps someone like Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes?

That’s it for the third edition of Senators’ 3 Up, 3 Down. How are you feeling ahead of the fourth week of the season, with the team sitting at the .500 mark? Dip into the replies to join the conversation.

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