The Ottawa Senators opened their three-game road trip Thursday with a 5-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at the Mullett Arena in Tempe. The win broke a two-game losing skid, lifting the Senators back up to a .500 record (19-19-3) marking the official midway point of the season.
It’s been an uneven 2022-23 campaign for the Senators to date. Similar to last season, injuries have been their bane.
The club opened the season with two losses on the road, returning home to post a four-game win string. But in game no.5, Josh Norris left after sustaining a shoulder injury and while he’s close to returning to the Senators’ lineup, he’s yet to do so.
The team won their first game minus their top centre but quickly hit a tailspin, dropping six straight. Four of those losses were also suffered without the services of Artem Zub, arguably their best defensive presence on the back end.
The Senators’ depth was tested. Rookie pivot, Shane Pinto was elevated to the second line. Veteran Derick Brassard was thrust into the lineup. Likewise on the blue line; Chabot was paired with various partners, leading to a lack of continuity among the defensive pairs.
However, the Senators were able to right the ship, possessing a respectable 15-11-3 since that early losing streak thanks to the play of several key individuals; in addition to their extraordinary special teams units.
Though his goal-scoring has leveled off, Senators’ captain Brady Tkachuk remains on a point-per-game pace.
With 18 goals, Tim Stützle is only four behind last season’s total and is well on his way to setting personal highs in all offensive categories. The soon-to-be 21-year-old who’s registered 39 points in 37 games is becoming must-see tv.
Free agent signee Claude Giroux comes as advertised, lending veteran leadership while chipping in offensively. The former Philadelphia Flyers captain has a shot at 30 goals which he’s accomplished only once in his 15-year career and is on pace to have his best campaign since 2018-19 when garnered 85 points.
Forward Drake Batherson had a bit of a dry spell but has found his game, earning points in 15 of his past 17 games (eight goals, 12 assists). While Alex DeBrincat hasn’t put the puck in the net as much as he would like (14 goals), he’s still on pace to reach a career-high in assists. DeBrincat’s shooting percentage (9.6%) is well below his career average (14.8%).
Rookie defenseman Jake Sanderson is living up to his lofty expectation. The 2020 fifth-overall selection is performing like a grizzled veteran, and not as a youngster who’s played only 41 NHL games.
The good news is the Senators’ special teams units are among the league’s elite.
Their power play (27.1%) and penalty kill (82.4%) units each rank sixth in the NHL with the PK being tops in the league on the road, much improved from last season’s rankings, (20th PP, 13th PK).
The Senators currently sit seven points out of a playoff position. To qualify for the postseason, the club will need to leapfrog as many as five teams. They’ll have to go on quite a run to do so. The numbers say the team can only afford to lose 10-12 games the rest of the way to earn a berth. At one juncture in December, the Senators went 8-2-1, gaining a mere point in the wildcard race in the process, so it will be a tough road to navigate.
To have a decent shot of doing so, the team must score more goals at even strength and not be mainly reliant on their vaunted power play. For as much as the Senators score on the PP, their 66 goals playing at 5-on-5 is fourth-worst league-wide.
Though it’s not for the lack of shooting. The Senators’ 33.5 shots on goal per game rank sixth.
D.J. Smith who guided his team to his 100th win as Senators’ head coach in Arizona, said after Monday’s home loss to Nashville, “Five on five has been an issue for us. We get chances analytically, all those things we haven’t made good on.”
This aspect of the game will likely improve steadily once Norris returns. Norris’ insertion allows Pinto to shift back to his familiar third-line spot creating a more-balanced everyday lineup. Getting back a healthy Mathieu Joseph and Tyler Motte to play on Pinto’s wings will also help matters along.
The Senators hope to continue their winning ways Saturday in Denver versus the reigning Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
Plagued by injuries themselves, the Avalanche are in the midst of a spell where they’ve lost seven of eight games.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.