The Ottawa Senators haven’t had the start they wanted this season but things may not be as bad as they appear on the surface of their 7-10-1 record. Led by the first hat trick of Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s career (regular season) and Craig Anderson’s 21 saves the Senators picked up their second road win of the season when they defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Nov. 13. “We’ve been struggling to get wins on the road and this one felt good tonight. It’s good for our confidence,” Pageau told the media after the game. “We’re trying to build a culture and an identity here that we are going to be a hard team to beat every night. I think we proved that tonight.”
Ottawa fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 but wrestled the game away from the home team over the final six and a half minutes. “Obviously we got crushed in Carolina our last game. We came into work yesterday and really put the work in at practice,” Pageau said of the 8-2 drubbing they got at the hands of the Hurricanes. “Tonight we worked for a full 60 minutes and we were patient. I don’t think we started the way we wanted to, but as the game went on the momentum started changing when we started putting pucks behind their defense. I think we wore them down in the end.”
The backbone of the win and the team is Anderson who is the longest-tenured Senator, the franchise’s all-time wins leader (194), and the second oldest player on the team. Despite all of his accolades, he isn’t necessarily a rah-rah guy who is going to give inspiring speeches to his teammates, many of whom are in the infancy of their NHL careers. Instead, he finds other ways to lead the rebuilding Sens.
“I think the biggest asset I can bring is making sure that I’m the hardest working guy here. Make sure that I’m pushing these guys to be better and make sure that everything I do is leading with my actions,” said Anderson, who is one of six players over the age of 30 on Ottawa’s current roster. “I don’t think my personality is one that I get up and hoot and holler. Bring your practice habits to the game, bring your mojo, and show these (young) guys why there are players who have played in the league 17 or 18 years.”
He really likes the way the younger players have battled this season, even if the results aren’t always there as far as the win-loss columns go. There are so many young, talented players just getting used to the rigors of the NHL and the team will get better as they gain more experience and go through more battles together. Like they did after rebounding from a tough loss to grind out a win in New Jersey.
“We bring a work ethic and structure which will give us a path to success. The talent and skill level will come out eventually. But if you’re always chasing the game it’s tough to find that confidence to play with. Us playing with structure, hard work, and being hard to play against it allows our skill to come out. Like it did late in the game (against the Devils). We were chasing it for a while but we played the right way and started to frustrate them,” Anderson added. “If we try to use too much skill and get away from our structure – the young guys make mistakes and before you know it, it snowballs, (and then they are) hanging their heads with no confidence.”
JGP x 3
Pageau has been on fire lately with eight goals in his last six games and now leads Ottawa with 15 points (11g-4a) over their 18 games. The key to his success is simple according to Anderson, who has been his teammate for the last eight seasons.
“He makes sure he plays the right way and he gets rewarded for it,” replied the goaltender when asked about his teammate’s success. “He has undercover skill, maybe people don’t realize how much skill he has. He has a great shot, great hands, and he’s always in the right spot at the right time. I think that’s his hockey sense. He’s also a great asset for the guys in this room.”
Like most hockey players, Pageau simply deflected all of the credit to his teammates after his first NHL hat trick. “My linemates (Nick Paul and Connor Brown) have been awesome. They work so hard every day and make it easy for me,” said Pageau who has played all of his 386 games in a Senators jersey.
“I think we have good chemistry on the ice because we spend a lot of time off the ice together watching video. I think that’s why we find each other so often on the ice. I think all of us are hard-working players that keep plays simple and that’s what is working so well right now.”
Pageau was on the ice for all four of his team’s goals on the night and leads the league with a plus-19 rating this season. In the final year of a three-year contract, he will likely be a hot commodity at the trade deadline, but the Senators would be wise to find a way to keep him.
He doesn’t sound like a guy who is looking to escape Ottawa, and he could be a nice piece of their puzzle amidst rising young stars like Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, Logan Brown, and Thomas Chabot.