The Ottawa Senators’ second series against the Toronto Maple Leafs is over, and while they likely wanted a different end result, it’s still a step in the right direction for the rebuilding team. Several young players stepped up throughout the series, scoring meaningful goals to keep the Senators in games against far more skilled opponents. Although four wins still puts them at the bottom of the NHL’s standings, it’s far better than they looked to start the 2020-21 season.
Regardless, management still likely isn’t happy with the on-ice results, as evidenced by the trade last week to bring in Ryan Dzingel from the Carolina Hurricanes. Derek Stepan hasn’t improved greatly, and the team is likely trying to move him closer to home, and pending free agents Erik Gudbranson and Mike Reilly may also be moved by the end of the season, as their performance hasn’t been quite what the team had hoped. As of now, though, the team seems to have found a rhythm that, for the most part, is working.
Item One: Zub, Dadonov Stand Out in Battle of Ontario
On February 15, the Senators started their second series against the Maple Leafs, and they kicked it off with a bang, beating their provincial rival 6-5 in overtime. After going down 5-1 near the end of the second, they came back to score five unanswered goals for the win. It’s the first time in history that the organization has overcome a four-goal deficit to win the game. Evgenii Dadonov was the hero of the night, scoring both the tying and game-winning goal, but the team had support across the roster, something that has not happened consistently this season.
They followed up their historic win with a tough 2-1 loss two nights later, and though the result was not what they wanted, it still was a solid performance for a rebuilding team. However, one problem that became noticeably concerning in the game was the power play effectiveness. The Senators had three power plays during the game but were woefully ineffective at getting pucks on the net with the man advantage – they only managed two shot attempts during the game.
Going back further, the Senators have been even worse. They have failed to score with the man advantage in any of their 18 power plays in the past six games. Part of that problem may be the second power play unit, which still features Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan, who still have not broken out of their early-season slump. A candidate to replace them could be Artyom Zub, who has been one of the best defensemen on the team lately, adapting quickly from the Russian game to the North American one. Even Thomas Chabot noted his puck-moving skills, which would be welcomed on the struggling power play unit.
Item Two: Tkachuk Hits 100 Points
Brady Tkachuk broke an important career milestone when he scored the lone goal in the loss to the Maple Leafs on Feb 17, hitting the 100th career-point mark and becoming the third-youngest Senator to do so at just 21 years old. The only players who were younger were Alexei Yashin, who surpassed the 100-point mark in just his second professional season in 1994-95, and Alexandre Daigle, who passed 100 points in 1995-96, his third season with the team.
Tkachuk has easily been the best player this season, leading the team with five goals and 11 points in 18 games, 75 shots on goal, and 72 hits. He’s been a driving force in all areas of the ice on the top line and a huge reason the team has started to click. Lately, he’s been especially effective, scoring a point in four of the past five games. Already the face of the young franchise, Tkachuk seems destined to one day be named the next captain of the Senators.
Item Three: Belleville Starts Slow with 1-2 Record
Anticipation was high for the AHL’s Belleville Senators, who started their season last Friday, which had been delayed due to the province of Ontario’s COVID restrictions. But the team wasn’t able to meet the high expectations, dropping their first two matches against the Laval Rocket, both by a score of 5-1, with Logan Shaw and Parker Kelly the lone scorers in each game. Joey Daccord and Kevin Mandolese were each given a start and played admirably, but after facing a combined 77 shots in the two games, there was only so much they could do.
Thankfully, the B-Sens turned it around for the third game, beating the Rocket 4-1. They still were outshot 26-19, but they managed to find the holes around Cayden Primeau, with Shaw, Alex Formenton, Vitaly Abramov, and Clark Bishop finding the back of the net. It was a huge improvement by much of the team, but there are still some key players who haven’t shown up yet. The most notable is Logan Brown, who many have argued deserved a shot at the NHL already this season. He struggled in the first two matchups, then went down with an undisclosed injury, forcing him to sit out for the 4-1 win and likely will sit the next game on February 19.
Belleville’s coach, Troy Mann, expected more out of the 2016 first-round pick. “Logan played in Game 1 and Game 2 and it wasn’t his best. He needs to play better in my opinion…He needs to be the go-to guy…[and] put the team on his back so he can get that opportunity in Ottawa” (from ‘Catching up with Troy Mann: Belleville coach dishes on Logan Brown, Formenton and other top Senators prospects’ – Ottawa Sun – 2/18/21). But an injury would be devasting for the talented center, as he’s struggled with injuries in the past, which no doubt have hampered his development. Another significant one this early in the season will be tough to overcome.
However, Ridly Greig has been surprisingly great in his professional debut. In three games, the 2020 first-round pick has two assists, two penalty minutes, and three shots on goal. He’s arguably been the team’s best player so far, according to Mann. Lassi Thomson, another former first-round pick, also had a strong debut, notching two assists and posting a plus-2 to start the season.
Item Four: Pinto Continues to Score
Shane Pinto has had an incredible 2020-21 season so far, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon. He’s scored nine goals and 11 points in the past six games, including a six-game goal streak. He currently leads the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with 26 points and 14 goals and sits fourth in the NCAA. Early this month, it was announced he was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award as the top athlete in college hockey. While Cole Caufield is likely the front-runner at the moment, Pinto can’t be far behind, which should make Senators’ fans incredibly happy.
Item Five: Peca Recalled to Taxi Squad
The Senators made a slight adjustment to their taxi squad on Thursday, activating Matthew Peca to the main roster and placing Artem Anisimov in his spot. Anisimov has struggled so far this season; in seven games, he has just a single assist and ranks in the bottom five on the team in Corsi possession percentage. Peca, on the other hand, hasn’t played yet this season and had just two assists in nine games in 2019-20, but had much better Corsi and Fenwick stats. With the Senators still struggling to score and create offensive pressure regularly, Peca will hopefully provide an upgrade on the bottom lines.
Joey Daccord was also recalled to the NHL after posting a loss in his 2020-21 AHL debut, serving as the backup to Marcus Hogberg in the February 15 game. Fans are still calling for him to make his NHL debut, however, but with Matt Murray and Hogberg starting to provide some reliable goaltending, Daccord will remain an insurance policy for the team.
What’s Next For the Senators?
The Senators return home next week and host the Montreal Canadiens in a two-game series, then host the Calgary Flames for the first time this season. The matchup will be highly anticipated, as it will be the first time Tkachuk will take on his brother Matthew in 2020-21. The Flames’ agitator has already stirred up some controversy against the Maple Leafs this season, and the hope is that Brady will keep his older brother in check in the three-game series.
Dzingel was acquired for Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette and will have to wait until March 1 to join the Senators. The hope is that he’ll come in and provide some top-six scoring and speed, but with many of the veterans struggling this season, fans can be forgiven if they’re feeling skeptical at this latest move, despite Dzingel’s familiarity with the team.
Finally, with the AHL season fully underway, the team may be more confident in recalling some of their top prospects. While it still may be some time before we see Brown in the NHL, others may get a shot in the coming weeks, especially if the lineup needs another shuffle to restart some players.