It’s hard to imagine a better start to the season for the Ottawa Senators, not just because they won their home opener, but also because they did it against their bitter rivals in the Toronto Maple Leafs. There was plenty to like about their first game of the season, but there were also some things that you hope to see corrected as soon as possible. That is to be expected for a young team like the Sens, but they found a way to overcome those shortcomings and win the game, and that alone deserves credit.
Tkachuk Signing Overshadows Game
Although the Senators are back on the ice and playing hockey again, the biggest story in the nation’s capital on the day of their opening day is the re-signing of young forward and possibly soon-to-be team captain, Brady Tkachuk. Sens fans were sent into a frenzy when Tkachuk himself posted a gif on Twitter early on Thursday morning that read “here we go”, giving the fans of the team an early indication that the rumours that he had finally signed a contract were indeed true.
Despite all the rumours that suggested Tkachuk wouldn’t be interested in signing a long-term deal and preferring to sign a bridge deal, he and the Senators came to an agreement on a seven-year, $57.5 million dollar deal that will ensure he is part of the Sens’ rebuild and “unparalleled success“.
In the past, the Sens have had issues keeping their stars around including Eric Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but that trend now seems to be changing after both Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot signed long-term deals with the franchise. Fans have previously wondered if their young up-and-coming players would stick around or if they would just perpetually restart the process each time someone came up for a new contract, but it doesn’t seem like that is going to be the case. This is a massive win for the Senators.
Senators’ Defence Needs Work
If you only looked at the scoreboard (especially during the first two periods) you wouldn’t think that the Senators played all that poorly defensively, but in reality, they didn’t play very well all night long. There were more than a couple of occasions where Maple Leafs’ forwards were left all alone at the front of the net or where the defence turned the puck over in critical situations. If not for the great play of their goaltender, the story of the game could be much different.
One defenceman in particular who had a rough night was Victor Mete, a player who many fans had very high hopes for this season. After a solid half-season with the Senators at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, Mete started the new season looking like the defenceman he was in Montreal, a player who makes some really critical mistakes. Of course, it’s just one game for him and he is more than capable of putting this behind him and coming back better, so you can’t read too much into this.
It wasn’t only Mete, however. It was a little bit of everyone and no one is excluded from that. Some were better than others on the night, but as a whole, the Sens’ defence just wasn’t up to snuff. The Senators have aspirations of making the playoffs this season, and although those might be a touch lofty for a team at this stage of their rebuild, they might in fact be possible but not if they don’t get better defending. There’s still more than enough time to right the ship on the back end.
Anton Forsberg Bails Out Senators
Where, oh where would the game have been if not for Anton Forsberg playing like a rockstar on the night? Countless high-end opportunities were turned away by the 28-year old who comes into the season as the backup goaltender behind Matt Murray. Time and time again, Forsberg was there to bail out his defencemen when they made mistakes.
Forsberg was tested early and often in this game, facing 48 Maple Leafs shots and turning aside 46 of them. It wasn’t just the number of shots, however, it was also how good of scoring chances the Maple Leafs frequently had. Numerous times, the Leafs had chances for cross-crease passes or tap-ins, but Forsberg somehow got over and made the save. It’s no question that he held the Senators in the game, and had he not been as sharp as he was, the outcome may just have been different.
A Scary Senators Offence
There are difference makers all over the offence for the Senators, but yet, they don’t seem to get the credit they deserve from people around the league. That offence was on full display before the Maple Leafs (their goaltending in particular) hunkered down and kept them off the scoreboard. Whether you are talking about Shane Pinto, Alex Forementon, Josh Norris, or Drake Batherson, you could include scary or effective in their descriptions.
Perhaps what makes this offence so scary is that they are currently playing without Tkachuk who will make a big difference when he does get into a game. While they don’t have a player like Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, or Alex Ovechkin, they have plenty of depth and multiple players who can hurt the opposition making them a matchup nightmare for many teams around the league.
A Foundation to Build On
The 2020-21 season very easily could have ended with a playoff appearance for the Senators had they not had such a poor start to the season, and although it’s only one game, this is a step in the right direction in helping avoid those same mistakes again this season. It’s a good foundation for them to build on, and with these same teams meeting again on Saturday night in Toronto, they need to take everything they have learned from this game and apply it immediately.
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!