The Ottawa Senators played host to the Vegas Golden Knights at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday night, and while the big story in Vegas and the NHL was the trade that sent Jack Eichel to Vegas in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and draft picks, there was still a game to be played. In front of 13,211 fans in Ottawa, the Senators played the Golden Knights to a 5-1 loss. The score makes things look a little worse than they actually were for the Ottawa, who put up a good fight. They were far from perfect, of course, and there is plenty to work on going forward.
Gustavsson Continues Strong Start
Much has been made about the Senators’ goaltending situation early in the new season, but Filip Gustavsson has not only solidified the crease, but has also stolen the starting job from veteran Matt Murray, at least for the time being. Despite the loss, Gustavsson played a solid game, turning aside 34 of the 38 shots he faced. He has provided the Senators with the confidence that a turnover won’t result in a goal, and he has shown the team and their fan base that he is the goaltender of the future.
Playing behind a defence that is highlighted as weak by just about everyone who has watched the team play isn’t easy. Time and time again, Gustavsson is forced to make a big save, or is scored on, because his defence lost themselves on the ice or missed an assignment entirely. Even with this, he has looked good more often than not.
When Gustavsson has played, the Senators have had a chance to win the game. Despite the lopsided score, aided by an empty-net goal at the end of the game, Ottawa was in it up until the final goal, and they could have won it if things had gone their way in the offensive zone. You can point the finger at anyone you like for the Sens’ loss to the Golden Knights, but Gustavsson is not one of those people.
Senators Need to Capitalize on Chances
The difference in Thursday night’s game came down to finishing chances. Both the Senators and the Golden Knights finished the game with 39 shots on goal, but the score was lopsided. Neither team turned in a good performance defensively, but alas, Vegas came away with a convincing victory. The Golden Knights made good on their chances, while the Senators simply did not. Yes, the Sens have injuries that have some of their top players out of the lineup, but so does Vegas who is easily the most injured team in the NHL this season.
Down Jack Eichel, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and William Karlsson, the Golden Knights came to Ottawa and scored five goals (one into an empty net at the end of the game). They got goals from players who have stepped up to fill the void left by their stars being injured including Jonathan Marchessault, Will Carrier, and Brett Howden, but on the other side of the ice, that hasn’t been happening.
The Senators have had some snakebitten players to start the season. Tim Stützle has yet to score this season, despite having numerous grade ‘A’ chances, and Thomas Chabot has also yet to score, despite all of his chances. It has become somewhat of a guessing game as to when some of the Senators’ best players will finally score a goal, but they won’t be winning too many games without the ability to score. There’s no cause for concern just yet, but it is something to monitor this season, especially with Stützle. He needs to get going and score a goal or two, it’s not like he’s played poorly this season, but he needs some numbers to show for it.
Senators Caught Napping Defensively
Defensively, the Senators have been akin to a car crash that you just can’t take your eyes off of. Just when you think that it can’t get much worse, it somehow does. It has been said time and time again that their top pair of Chabot and Artem Zub has been phenomenal this season, and they have. They have continued to be the Senators’ best defensive pairing, and the only pairing that should spark any confidence into head coach D.J. Smith or the fans. The problem has been with the bottom four, and it didn’t change on Thursday night.
It hasn’t mattered if it’s Nikita Zaitsev, Nick Holden, Victor Mete, Michael Del Zotto, or Josh Brown, there have been constant and costly mistakes being made on the back end that have resulted in goals. Many of the Senators’ goals against this season have come on missed assignments that leave someone wide open on the back door. Yes, these mistakes do happen from time to time, but the Senators’ have been doing it at a rate that isn’t acceptable.
On Thursday night, the puck seemed to find its way to an open member of the Golden Knights in front of the net more often than it should have. Occasionally they were bailed out by Gustavsson, but Vegas had far too many great chances to expect Gustavsson to stop all of them. Fans jokingly said before the game that the Henderson Silver Knights (the Golden Knights’ American Hockey League affiliate) was coming to town, but they had no problem beating the Senators’ big club with mouth-watering chances aplenty.
Growing Pains Still Present for Senators
Coming into the season, there were some hopes that the Senators might be able to push for a playoff spot, but with every loss that passes, that hope seems to be dwindling. The Senators currently sit with a 3-6-1 record, ahead of only the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division. It’s clear that there are still growing pains and despite general manager Pierre Dorion declaring the rebuild to be over, it in fact isn’t. The Senators’ best hockey is still in front of them, and it looks like this season will be competitive, but probably won’t result in too much in the winning department.
Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking and writing other sports (primarily Canadian football) on my website 13thmansports.ca!