After what was likely a tough stretch of isolation for Ryan Dzingel, the newest Ottawa Senators’ forward finally joined the lineup on Thursday night against the Calgary Flames. He entered the fray in the midst of a tough stretch for the Senators. The matchup was the team’s third game in four nights and their fourth of what is essentially a five-game series against the Flames, save for the one-off against the Montréal Canadiens earlier in the week.
The Senators posted a big win against the Flames on Monday, where fans saw what might have been Matt Murray’s best game of the season. On the back-to-back, the Senators received strong goaltending from Joey Daccord in his season debut, but the offense came up short against the Habs. Enter Dzingel.
The Flames put up seven goals against Murray and Daccord in Dzingel’s return. It wasn’t a complete blowout in the sense that the Senators outshot the Flames and had a slight advantage in the faceoff circle (53% to Calgary’s 47%). Calgary had a few more giveaways, and the Senators shut down the Flames’ power play. A couple of defensive breakdowns and a largely ineffective power play (1/6) kept a third win against the Flames this season out of reach for the Senators. Dzingel’s play, considering he hadn’t been in a lineup since Feb. 11 against Dallas, was a positive note. With quarantine over and a goal in the stats book already, what should Senators fans expect from Dzingel’s second stint with the team?
Dzingel was having a tough start to the 2020-21 season in Carolina. He put up four points in 11 games (two goals and two assists), but the inconsistency is what seemed to hold him back from playing big minutes. Oddly enough, in his last two games with the Hurricanes, he logged his highest and fewest minutes. On Feb. 8 against Columbus, he played nearly 18:43 on the second night of a back-to-back against the Blue Jackets. On Feb. 11, however, in his last game with the Hurricanes, he only played about half of the previous game’s ice time at 9:41.
There wasn’t an abundance of penalties for the Hurricanes on either night, so he wasn’t stuck on the bench because penalty killers were taking up the time. Further, this inconsistent allocation looks like it became a pattern throughout his time with the Hurricanes this season. His ice-time ranged from around 11 minutes in some games to 15 or 16 minutes for others, which could be a difference of nearly 5-10 shifts.
It’s no secret that Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is a workhorse and likely expects a similar drive from his players. Dzingel puts in work, but perhaps there was some tension between the player and the coach that contributed to the ice-time fluctuation and inconsistent offensive output. On the other hand, despite a decent showing in 2019-20 for Carolina (eight goals and 21 assists in 64 games), Dzingel arguably hasn’t felt comfortable since leaving Ottawa in the 2018-19 season. Prior to his departure, he put up two 20 goal seasons. In 2017-18, he scored 23 goals and in 2018-19, he scored 22 goals in 57 games for Ottawa before adding four more in 21 games for Columbus. What does this mean for the Senators and Senators fans?
Ottawa is Home
Sometimes there is just something about playing for the team that drafted you that makes things click on the ice. Dzingel only has one game under his belt in his return to the Senators’ lineup, but his legs appeared to get in gear, and his game progressed as the night went on. The stare over at Connor Brown as he approached David Rittich on a two-on-one early in the third period, and the eventual look off of Brown and the rip past the Flames’ goaltender, showed Senators fans that he’s still got the hands, shot, and potential to provide some scoring depth for Ottawa.
Dzingel is an interesting case for the Senators if he stays healthy. The North Division is a high-flying offensive division, and there’s a chance to regain some offensive charm. The Senators are also clearly following a shot-heavy philosophy and are directing a ton of shots to the net. With all of this in mind, there’s no reason to believe that he can’t put up at least 10 goals and 17 points this season (he needs at least seven more goals and five assists to reach that mark) and eclipse his goal total from last season (eight), which serves as a similar short season sample size. This would be a modest 12 points in the 30 remaining games for the Senators. It would also provide a boost to the Senators’ offense and go a long way to rebuilding some Dzingel’s confidence to the levels that he had in his early days with Ottawa.
Settling Into the Lineup
There’s a chance that Dzingel gets a shot further up the lineup if he gets rolling, considering the way coach DJ Smith has been shuffling the lines this season. Dzingel is likely going to find himself starting on the left side of the fourth line until Smith is satisfied with his conditioning after the quarantine, but he ended his first game with 15:14 of ice time. It’s a decent share considering he hasn’t played in three weeks. In an odd twist as well, he was the only Senators player to finish on the even side of the plus/minus chart on a night where Calgary put up seven. Maybe he caught a break on a shift change, but it looks good on paper for your first game back.
Where Dzingel settles into the lineup may depend on the play of Tim Stützle and Nick Paul as well. Smith could certainly bump Dzingel up if he sees reason to give the younger guys a check. Either way, he will likely get more power play time and is a welcome addition to the mid-to-bottom six of the team. His depth and skill can help support the young crew battling through some unique challenges. Hopefully, his early goal is a sign of comfort and more to come. Ottawa just might be Dzingel’s professional hockey home, so it’s good to see him back in the red, black, and white.
Sports and music writer, covering the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Lecturer at King’s University College. Journalism degree from UKC, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Loves a good day at the outdoor rink.