4 Observations From Senators’ First 6 Games

After losing their first two games of the season, the Ottawa Senators have turned it on offensively and are undefeated since returning to home ice on Oct. 18. They’ve had convincing wins over the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Arizona Coyotes, and the Dallas Stars. Six games into the season, there are a few observations to make on the outlook of the 2022-23 season. Here are four that have stood out above the rest.

Shane Pinto Is the Real Deal

Shane Pinto was the 32nd pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and he has come out of the gates on fire with five goals in the first six games. He dominated the preseason, and it’s a good sign that his elite shooting talent has translated to the speed of the regular season.

Related: Senators’ Pinto Is a Frontrunner for the Calder Trophy

The third line has provided head coach D.J. Smith with the flexibility to deploy his top nine with no hesitation. Tyler Motte, Mathieu Joseph, and Pinto have an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 58.7 percent according to Moneypuck.com. Everyone knew the top six would be dynamic, but the third line being this productive makes the Senators one of the best offensive groups in the league.

Shane Pinto Ottawa Senators
Shane Pinto, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Pinto has looked comfortable on the second power-play unit, where he does his damage from the middle of the slot. Offseason addition Claude Giroux has set him up a few times in that spot, and he’s made no mistake putting pucks in the back of the net.

The question for Pinto is how much responsibility can he shoulder? Josh Norris could potentially be out for the season, which may force him into a top-six role at some point this season. For now, Derrick Brassard is centering Alex DeBrincat and Giroux, but if he keeps producing at a top-six pace, the coaching staff may look to promote him to a bigger role.

Jake Sanderson is Top-Four Ready

Jake Sanderson won a job within the defensive group out of training camp and has been one of the most impressive players on the Senators through six games. The former fifth-overall pick finds himself in a top-four role alongside Travis Hamonic, and they currently hold a 62.7 expected goals percentage, which makes them the best defensive pairing on the team.

The 19-year-old finds himself playing 19:02 per game (TOI/G) while quarterbacking the second power-play unit and killing penalties just six games into his NHL career.

Sanderson has been a pleasant surprise to the defensive group that would be thin without him. After two years at the University of North Dakota, it looks as though he has made the jump to an effective top-four defenceman rather easily.

Offence Won’t Have Any Issues Scoring, Even without Norris

Norris’ injury may slow the Senators’ momentum, but the emergence of the third-line, along with the chemistry that DeBrincat and Giroux have built, is enough to believe that their issues won’t come with scoring.

Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson are leading the team in points so far scoring at well over a point-per-game pace. DeBrincat and Tim Stützle have only recorded one goal, which will change as the season rolls along.

Analytically, the Senators’ forward group has been outright dominant. According to MoneyPuck.com, The top line of Tkachuk, Stützle, and Batherson holds a 66.7 percent xG%, while the second line (before Norris’ injury) holds 64.4 xG%. That places them each in the top six of that metric when looking at forward lines across the NHL that have played at least 50 minutes thus far.

Goaltending Should Be Good Enough for Playoff Push

In the six games so far this season, the Senators have gotten a team save percentage (SV%) of .910%, which has helped weather the storm as Cam Talbot continues to miss time with a rib injury. Anton Forsberg has given them replacement-level goaltending saving minus-0.2 goals above expected according to MoneyPuck.

Anton Forsberg Ottawa Senators
Anton Forsberg, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Once Talbot returns, their goaltending duo should be good enough to make a push for the playoffs. With the pace the forwards are scoring, they will be able to outscore most of their opponents and as long as the goaltending is replacement-level, the postseason should be attainable.

They play one last game on the home stand against the Minnesota Wild, before heading down to Florida for a two-game road trip against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Those are two teams that the Sens are directly competing with for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

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