The big story this week was that the Washington Capitals were finally shut out for the first time this season, losing 1-0 against the New York Islanders on Apr 6. They were just one of two teams that had yet to score zero goals in a game, and with their loss, they left the Ottawa Senators as the only team to not get shut out this season.
You read that right – the Senators have not been shut out in 2020-21.
It seems almost impossible; the Senators have posted a 13-24-4 record and currently sit 30th in the NHL, just six points ahead of the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Yet they have scored at least one goal in every game this season and are the only team to do so. Despite their record, the Senators have been surprisingly capable around the net and have scored 106 goals this season, which places them 20th league-wide in goals-for and ahead of the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators, who sit tied at 102 goals. Much of that is thanks to their young core, led by the trio of Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, and Tim Stützle, who keeps finding new ways to put the puck in the net.
Can they keep it up for the rest of 2020-21? The Senators rank dead last in goals allowed with 150, but their goalies are returning to full health after an injury-ridden March. They also have just 16 games left and possibly less if their four-game series against the Vancouver Canucks, who have been ravaged by COVID-19 variants, is canceled. It wouldn’t be an NHL record, but being the only team to not get shut out would be a bright spot on a tough season.
Item One: Hogberg Returns to the Lineup
On Wednesday, Marcus Hogberg started his first game since Feb. 18, when he left midway through the first period with what looked to be a lower-body injury after making a routine save against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Prior to his return, he had a record of 2-5-0 and a save percentage (SV%) of .860, making him statistically one of the worst goalies in the NHL. However, his last two starts before his injury were two of his best, both resulting in wins and including a .968 SV%.
Although Wednesday’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers resulted in a loss, Hogberg looked like he had pre-injury, stopping 31 of 34 shots for a .912 SV%. He credits his strong return to a couple of games he started with the Belleville Senators, where he stopped 57 of 60 shots, before returning to the lineup, stating, “The two games in Belleville helped me a lot. Before I got injured I had two pretty good games and tried to take that into the Belleville games.”
It’s a positive change in direction for the Senators, who have failed to get consistent goaltending for the majority of the season, especially from Matt Murray. Of the last eight starts, they have had at least a .900 SV% in seven of them, none of which came from Murray. Hogberg will likely take over as starter while Murray continues to recover, relegating Forsberg to backup until Joey Daccord returns.
Item Two: Tkachuk Climbs Up in All-Time Games Played
On Wednesday night, Brady Tkachuk played in his 178th consecutive game with the Senators, surpassing Nick Foligno for 10th among the franchise’s all-time consecutive games played. He hasn’t missed a game since Nov. 8, 2018, after missing a month to a torn ligament, which was the only time in his three seasons in the NHL he spent any time away from the team. In that span, he’s scored 107 points for an average of 0.601 points per game, which puts him as one of the most productive players in franchise history, ranking above Bryan Smolinski, Thomas Chabot, Bobby Ryan, Mika Zibanejad, and Vaclav Prospal.
Tkachuk’s record is just another reminder that he has become the current face of the franchise. The talented power forward has been a driving force for the struggling team, either through scoring, possession, or getting under the opponent’s skin. He literally can do it all, and 2020-21 has one of his best seasons so far, aided by his newfound chemistry with Norris and Batherson and his bromance with Stützle.
Although Tkachuk currently ranks 36th in the NHL among active consecutive games played, the likelihood he sets a league-leading iron-man streak is low. His abrasive, in-your-face style will likely start to wear him down and create injuries later in his career that he could shake off in his early 20s. But that shouldn’t bother the Senators – despite his youth, he’s become the team’s leader, which he does through example. One can only hope that he’ll be able to do that in Ottawa for many years to come.
Item Three: Dzingel Out, Amadio Makes Debut
The injuries keep piling up on the Senators. Ahead of Thursday night’s game, it was announced that forward Ryan Dzingel would be sitting out with an upper-body injury. No further updates have been provided, meaning there is currently no timeline for his return, but it’s likely connected to the hit he took on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers. In his place will be Michael Amadio who makes his Senators debut.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun made it very clear on Twitter that this was definitely an injury and not a precautionary scratch prior to a trade. Dzingel’s name has been circulating on the trade bait lists ever since he arrived in Ottawa, which has only grown as the trade deadline inches closer. However, there is some skepticism from other teams, believing that the winger can only score when he’s with the Senators; his stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes were sub-par, to say the least, but he was right back to his old self when he returned. Given that and the short time he’s been with the team, it’s unlikely he gets moved at the deadline, especially for anything significant.
As for Amadio, he’ll be eager to make his mark with the Senators after struggling to find a place with the Los Angeles Kings. After 20 games this season, h e had just two assists and had been demoted to the AHL after spending all of 2019-20 in the NHL. The former captain of the OHL’s North Bay Batallion has proven he can score – in 2015-16, he had 50 goals in 68 games – but that hasn’t translated into his professional career. However, the Senators are excellent at giving underrated players a second chance, the most recent being Clark Bishop, who came in to replace Artem Anisimov and has since made himself a key part of the bottom-six.
Item Four: Brown Extends Goal Streak to 6
Several of the Senators’ veterans have face criticism this season, but arguably none more so than Connor Brown. After jumping to a career-high 43 points last season after coming over from the Maple Leafs, he has struggled to return to form after the long off-season. In the first 35 games of the 2020-21 season, he had just six goals, none of which came in the first 10 games. Not noted as a goal-scorer, he also wasn’t producing assists; in the same span, he had eight assists, putting him on pace for 32 points in a full season, which is significantly less than expected for the top-six forward.
That all seems to have changed. With his goal on Thursday night, Brown now has a goal in each of the past six games, which ties the franchise record, set by Jason Spezza in 2009-10 and tied earlier this season by Drake Batherson. It’s a mystifying shift in fortune – his ice time has stayed relatively the same and he remains primarily on the third line. The only real change has been his linemates, as he’s been playing more with Nick Paul, Colin White, and rookie Alex Formenton.
It’s also worth noting that Brown is now tied with Evgenii Dadonov for third in team scoring with 11 goals. Dadonov, who was brought in to be a goal-scorer, has faced continued criticism this season for failing to provide goals on a consistent basis. Brown, who has up to this point has been a playmaker first, suddenly has taken over as the team’s top sniper during this last stretch. Should he keep it up, he could make the Senators reconsider who they protect for the upcoming Seattle expansion draft his summer.
Item Five: Coburn Could Be on Trade Block
With the Apr 12 trade deadline getting closer every day, and more and more trades breaking, the Senators appear under growing pressure to make a move. On TSN’s Trade Bait list, only Chris Tierney is listed from the Senators, but another name that could be on the move is defenseman Brayden Coburn, who was sent to the taxi squad ahead of Thursday’s game in favor of playing Erik Brannstrom.
There’s no question that he has not worked out in Ottawa. In 16 games, the towering defender has just two assists, whereas Brannstrom has two goals and five points in 14 appearances. It’s clear he no longer has a spot on the active roster, but there are reportedly some teams asking about him, especially those in the market for defensive depth. According to Sportsnet, the Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets are in the market for physical, depth defensemen, and should they decide to make a trade, Coburn would be able to slot into the lineup right away thanks to him already being in Canada. Anyone else would have to go through COVID quarantine protocol, limiting their time with the team before the playoffs start in May. The New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers have also reportedly been looking at defensemen.
The only issue is that Coburn has not been playing well with limited minutes on a team that has allowed the most goals in the NHL. While he does have a Stanley Cup ring, he has not been a stabilizing presence for the Senators his season, which forced them to bury him in their taxi squad. It definitely will limit the return general manager Pierre Dorion can expect to get. If he is moved, it’s likely for a mid-to-late-round pick and not much more.
What’s Next for the Senators?
All eyes will be on the trading floor in the next four days. Already, the league has seen some big moves from the Islanders as they prepare to make a deep run in the playoffs. Canada’s COVID protocols will inevitably make trades with American-based teams more complicated, which likely will affect potential deals. The Senators, who have been sellers at the past several deadlines, will once again be looking to move veterans for picks, but with so many factors at play this season, i’s almost impossible to predict what happens.
With the season winding down, fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker, who entered COVID protocol earlier this week. The pair starred for the University of North Dakota for the past two seasons and signed their entry-level deals with the Senators after their season ended in March. Easily two of the most exciting prospects in the organization, it will be interesting to see how they fare in the NHL, even for just a few games.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.