The Ottawa Senators have begun their second road trip of the season and are continuing to play some of the best hockey we’ve seen to date. They avoided another long losing streak by grabbing two points in the dying seconds of the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday thanks to Brady Tkachuk’s team-leading fourth goal of the season.
Just as things were finally starting to get a little brighter in Ottawa, they were dancing with the devil when Matt Murray went down with an injury late Saturday and Artem Zub had an inconclusive, yet negative, COVID-19 result. Thankfully, both of those stories turned out to be good news for the Senators and they’re now able to refocus for a big five-game stretch.
Item One: Matt Murray Injury Scare
The Ottawa Senators dropped another two points to the Jets on Thursday night, but that wasn’t the only loss they suffered. Starting goaltender Murray was absent from the net when the Senators took the ice for the final period and was no where to be seen on the bench in their eventual 5-1 loss. After two periods of play, Murray let in three goals on 15 shots and the injury seemed to have happened when he was involved in a collision with Nikita Zaitsev and Paul Stastny towards the end of the second period.
After the play, Murray was seen hunched over and dealing with the team’s athletic therapist Dom Nicoletta, but head coach D.J. Smith said it was just for precautionary reasons. “It was more precautionary. They’re doing some tests and we’ll see in the morning how he is,” he said.
Defenceman Erik Gudbranson also spoke on the matter after the game. “It’s difficult. He’s your No.1 goaltender, he’s found his game and he’s been outstanding for us over the last (10 days). We just hope he’s healthy as soon as possible and it’s not that bad.” (from ‘GARRIOCH: Senators suffer a huge blow losing Murray in 5-1 loss to Winnipeg’ – Ottawa Sun – 2/12/21)
Murray’s numbers this season aren’t that great as he has just two wins with a 3.69 goals against average (GAA) and a .882 save percentage (SV%). However, in his last four starts he’s been much better posting a 1.70 GAA and a .947 SV%. The Senators did receive some good news on Murray before their Hockey Day in Canada game against the Jets on Saturday when Smith said he’s hopeful he’ll be ready to go for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday at Scotiabank Arena. However, while he was on the ice this morning, Smith said that he will not be dressing tonight and that Joey Daccord will dress in his place.
Item Two: Senators Acquire Ryan Dzingel From Carolina
Ryan Dzingel is headed back to the nation’s capital except this time he’ll be alongside many new faces. Just hours before their game against the Jets on Saturday, the Sens had announced that they dealt newcomers Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette to the Carolina Hurricanes for Dzingel. He was originally drafted by the organization at No. 204 overall in 2011.
Dzingel, who last played for the team in 2018-19 before getting traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, heads back to Ottawa who desperately needs help scoring. He’s only recorded two goals and four points this season so far in Carolina but Senators fans have seen him hit the 20 goals, 40 points mark before. Unfortunately, since he’s arriving from the United States, he will have to quarantine for 14 days before skating and dressing with the team.
“Ryan is a proven NHL goal scorer,” general manager Pierre Dorion said. “In our years with us, he had 14 (goals), 23 and 22, plus four when we traded him to Columbus, so twice he’s scored more than 20 goals in the league. We know we’ve been working hard getting a lot of shots, so, with his speed and his goal-scoring ability, he’ll be able to provide a spark.” (from ‘GARRIOCH: Ottawa Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion brings back Ryan Dzingel with club struggling to score’ – Ottawa Sun – 2/13/21)
Before the club had traded Dzingel to the Blue Jackets, he had turned down a five-year, $25 million extension in February 2019. He will now come to Ottawa with a $3.375 million cap hit and is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. On the flip side, Paquette and Galchenyuk simply just didn’t fit with the Senators. Galchenyuk, who’s now joining his sixth team since he entered the league in 2012 is barely hanging on to his NHL career, whereas Paquette’s style of play will be better suited somewhere else.
With just three wins in 16 games, you’d like to think that Dorion and the rest of management couldn’t just sit back and let the losing continue so that’s why they made this move. The Senators needed to do something to shake things up, and at least Dzingel is somebody they’re familiar with.
Item Three: Belleville Senators’ Season Begins
The Belleville Senators kicked off their season Friday night with a four-game series at the Bell Centre, and for some players on the Belleville roster it’s been nearly a year since they played a game. The Senators are playing in all-Canadian division much like the NHL, so it includes the Toronto Marlies, Manitoba Moose and Stockton Heat. The Heat are the affiliate of the Calgary Flames, but they were moved from California to Calgary and the Saddledome because of the border restrictions from COVID-19.
The NHL and it’s 31 owners are taking big hits in the financial department this season because most teams are playing in empty rinks. In certain cases, some are digging a little deeper into their pockets by operating their minor-league affiliates. Because Eugene Melnyk also owns the Belleville franchise, running the AHL team will come in somewhere in the $3-to-$4 million range. It’s a large expense to the Ottawa Senators’ owner but it’s well spent as the club can invest in its top prospects.
The dollar figure estimate is based off the fact that travel will be in the range of $650,000-to-$800,000 for the season because the Senators will have to charter a plane to fly to Western Canada for eight games when their schedule is set. Daily PCR testing for COVID-19 could amount to as much as $1 million. What isn’t taken into account is the players’ salaries of $1.75 million (U.S. dollars) which will be pro-rated because of the shortened season. Depending on how many games are played, the players will receive between to 40-to-48% of the contracts.
The Sens are slated to play 36 games before the season ends in mid-May if all goes as planned. Some teams have opted out of the season mostly because of financials caused by the pandemic, but the Senators and every other team that opted in are going this route because they want to develop their prospects. Melnyk and the Senators believe having the AHL team play is crucial with so many young players in the system. They would rather see them play and get in their reps rather than sitting with the team’s taxi squad. The Senators play their next game Tuesday against the Laval Rocket.
What’s Next for the Senators?
The Senators are continuing to make progress as the season moves along. After a tough stretch of nine straight losses, they’ve been able to squeak out two big wins against the Montreal Canadiens and the Jets. Tonight, they begin a mini three-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs who sit a top the North and the entire NHL. If they can play how they did against the Canadiens last week and parts of the Edmonton Oilers and Jets’ games, the Sens might be able to grab a point or two.
Smith continues to shuffle the lines and recall players from the taxi squad, but with the Belleville Senators now underway, we might see more players come into the fold very soon. Fans are itching to see more of players in the system like Logan Brown and Alex Formenton to get the call to the big club. When and where they will fit in is a question yet to be answered but with the trade that saw Paquette and Galchenyuk leave this week, Dorion has made it clear no one is safe.