It appears the Ottawa Senators had been the metaphorical “final straw” earlier than two coaches within the Scotia North Division had been fired this season. The Montréal Canadiens’ Claude Julien and Calgary Flames’ Geoff Ward had been each ousted the day after their workforce performed the Senators; the Canadiens misplaced in a shootout 5-4, whereas the Flames lit up the Senators 7-3 for what nonetheless stands as solely their second win towards the Sens in seven video games this season. The Flames have but to beat the Senators beneath the Darryl Sutter system, however that’s a fear for these in Calgary.
In fact, it wasn’t the person video games towards the Senators that price Julien and Ward their jobs. It had extra to do with timing, but it surely nonetheless performs right into a enjoyable and indicative narrative that the Senators are the pests of the North this season.
The Senators needed to be pests when the puck dropped on the 2020-21 season. Head coach DJ Smith anticipated his workforce to play onerous no matter predictions about wins or losses. They handed the power-house Toronto Maple Leafs an early loss; nevertheless, the Senators have been a gradual thorn in Toronto’s facet for years, so it felt like nothing new.
Ottawa then confronted a tough finish to January after they had been humbled by the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, and Edmonton Oilers. That they had a number of new gamers and it perhaps took them a while to settle into a brand new system and elegance. The workforce struggled on the again finish, from protection to goaltending, however they began to see some consistency with the addition of Artem Zub, some promising video games from Erik Brännström and, some moments of energy from the goaltenders. They had been higher than their report indicated, however they shortly misplaced their id as a “robust to play towards” rebuilding workforce.
With expectations out the window, the Sens began taking wins from their opponents, together with three of 4 from the Canadiens in February. That is the important thing. The remainder of the groups within the North Division got here into the season anticipating to push for a playoff spot. The Senators had been at all times meant to be the pests, but it surely took them a while to determine what that seemed like. Does it imply profitable video games or simply making video games robust for his or her opponent? Does it imply enjoying heavy or just making opponents battle offensively?
It’s not a task you run a system to attain or look to a mannequin to repeat. Nonetheless, from Ryan Dzingel’s return and scoring spree, Clark Bishop’s grinding minutes, and first NHL wins from third and fourth string goaltenders, Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson, the Senators have began to wreak havoc on the division.
Based on Hockey-reference.com, the Senators have a .500 or larger factors share (PTS%) towards three groups within the North. Two of them (the Canadiens and Maple Leafs) look like playoff-bound. Ottawa has additionally posted a fair purpose differential towards Montréal in 5 video games and solely a minus-3 differential towards Toronto in seven video games. The video games are shut after they lose, which incorporates 5 regulation losses over 12 video games mixed, the place the Sens have stolen 13 factors off two robust opponents.
It’s beginning to appear like the playoff groups are set within the North, however the Senators are going to proceed to trigger a stir as groups jostle for place. The Flames are determined and the Canucks are in robust to push for a spot as most groups have video games in hand. Apart from a stretch of six video games in 9 days on the finish of April when Ottawa performs the 2 groups instantly above them within the standings, the remainder of their 14 video games are towards the 4 groups sitting in a playoff spot. Apparently, solely the Maple Leafs have performed the Senators since they’ve gained newfound confidence whcih stems from their high-flying third and fourth-string goaltenders.
The Maple Leafs wanted time beyond regulation to squeeze out a victory towards the Senators, who had been on the second night time of a back-to-back. The Canadiens, Oilers, and Jets haven’t confronted Gustavsson or Anton Forsberg, who’ve each performed very nicely. Gustavsson, who entered in aid of Daccord for his first style of NHL motion, has a .973 save share (SV%) over his two and one-third appearances, whereas Forsberg has a .927 SV% after his recreation towards the Maple Leafs, which was additionally his first NHL recreation in over a calendar yr. It’s a small pattern measurement, but it surely’s one of many few stretches this season when Ottawa has been a menace all through 60 minutes of consecutive video games. Certainly, it’s a lift offence that ought to be on the high of DJ Smith’s want checklist of late.
The highest spot within the division will not be locked up, and although dwelling ice could not have the identical energy with out followers within the enviornment, these playoff-bound groups are nonetheless combating for larger seeding. The Senators are enjoying freely whereas additionally getting a take a look at what they’ve in a few of their youthful gamers. Their drive is coming from their younger goalies, from rejuvenated gamers like Dzingel and gamers who wish to show their value, like Alex Formenton. With their new-found confidence, Ottawa will play spoiler over the ultimate six weeks of the season.
Implications Past this Season
This pest position shouldn’t be a short lived actuality for the workforce. As they discover their footing and head into the 2021-22 season, the strain will slowly enhance, however the drive to grind out video games doesn’t should dissipate. The distinction between being a tough workforce to play towards on the high of the division and a tough workforce to play towards on the backside of it’s merely a matter of time. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and St. Louis Blues had been grinding out robust video games they weren’t anticipated to win earlier than they grew to become perennial playoff groups and, ultimately, Stanley Cup Champions.
As we attain the ultimate stretch of the season, groups will solidify their id and play extra cohesively. The pest id can swimsuit even a top-tier workforce. Time beyond regulation or the shootout will begin to go the Senators’ manner, and the wins will ultimately add up. That is all to say that, in one of many oddest seasons but, Ottawa has improved over the primary two-thirds of it regardless of nonetheless sitting final within the division. Senators followers will hopefully look again fondly on the times when their workforce was the pests in an All-Canadian division as they put together to cope with their very own pests down the road.
Sports activities and music author, masking the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Lecturer at King’s College School. Journalism diploma from UKC, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Loves an excellent day on the out of doors rink.