The Ottawa Senators played their first regular-season game on Thursday (Oct. 13) and it didn’t end well. Despite entering the first intermission with a one-goal lead versus the Buffalo Sabres, they finished the night on the losing side of a 4-1 scoreline.
In this edition of Senators News & Rumors, we’ll check in on how the squad responded to their season-opening defeat with insight from Jake Sanderson, Drake Batherson, and head coach D.J. Smith. There’s plenty to discuss.
Jake Sanderson Produces Impressive NHL Debut
Sanderson finished the night with one shot on goal, two hits, and 22:21 time on ice. He saw plenty of the puck on the power play and penalty kill, drawing praise from his head coach.
“He had the puck, made a lot of good plays, and defended well,” Smith said of Sanderson’s debut. “He killed penalties and you can see that he’s going to be a really good player. He thinks the game really well too. He improved as the game became more intense. He took care of the puck and made so many smart reads.”
When asked about whether he was surprised by the amount of ice time he received, Sanderson said, “I felt like it was a power play/penalty kill game and I was just thrown out there whenever. I’m ready whenever they want me over the boards and I guess tonight was the night.”
The 20-year-old partnered Travis Hamonic on the second pair and thanked his veteran teammate for helping him through his first appearance as a professional. Despite the defeat, he was in good spirits.
“It was definitely faster [than it was in preseason],” he explained. “I felt like I got my feet under me as the game went on and was just making plays. I thought Travis [Hamonic] was great and I have him to thank for that, but we can always get better and we’ll take things away from this game.”
Sanderson also put a positive spin on the Senators’ overall performance, stressing the importance of taking the season one game at a time: “There’s definitely some good things we can take away from our game but it’s a long season and we can’t dwell on one loss. We just need to turn the page and get ready for Toronto.”
Drake Batherson Rues Missed Opportunities in Sabres Defeat
Batherson registered an assist and two shots on goal through 18:31 time on ice but left the arena knowing that the Senators had failed to capitalise on several golden chances to score. It just wasn’t their night.
“We had a few breakaways and lots of power plays,” he told reporters in the locker room. “I thought we had a lot of looks but that we just didn’t get the chances. It’s the first game, we’ve only played two games together as a team, and we’ll get better as we go. There’s no excuse, it’s just the way it goes sometimes.
“I thought we had good momentum going into the second period but then it was a lot of power plays and penalty kills. There wasn’t a lot of five-on-five and sometimes that effects the legs. We’ll start working on it for the next game.”
However, the 24-year-old was quick to point out that the mood in the Senators’ locker room remains positive. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will Ottawa’s climb up the standings.
“We have great morale in the room and a couple of different bounces [could’ve made a difference],” Batherson explained. “It’s the first game. We’ll put this one behind us and we’re looking forward to taking on a good team in Toronto. It’s the best thing about this league: you play almost every second night. It’s easy to forget about [defeats] and move onto the next one, which is a huge game.”
D.J. Smith Disappointed by the Senators’ Poor ‘Execution’
The Senators shouldn’t have lost to the Sabres. Although both sides recorded 36 shots on goal, Ottawa won more faceoffs, completed more takeaways, conceded fewer giveaways, and landed more hits than their hosts. In the end, Buffalo came through because they were clinical in the moments that mattered.
“I thought we had a real good first period,” Smith told reporters. “We need to score on the power play, it wasn’t good for us tonight. We didn’t create enough chances or score on the five-on-three. I thought we had three weak minutes in the second period when they got a couple on us. We had plenty of chances but we just didn’t put it in the back of the net.
“Execution [was the problem]. I think the guys wanted it a little bit too much and were squeezing [the stick]. It didn’t go in the net but there were plenty of chances there.”
When asked about his decision to send five forwards onto the ice for a 5-on-3, Smith added: “The group that scores are going to be the group that goes [onto the ice for power plays] and we just didn’t execute it the way we wanted to. We wanted go get the puck onto [Alex] DeBrincat or [Josh] Norris’ hands but it just didn’t go in the net.”
Looking Ahead for the Ottawa Senators
As noted by Batherson, the Senators have an opportunity to bounce back quickly. They will contest their second game of the season on Saturday (Oct. 15) on the road versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. If they tighten up defensively and continue to fire pucks on net, Ottawa will have a chance to secure their first win of the campaign.
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Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.