The Ottawa Senators will play a competitive ice hockey game for the first time since 9 April 2016. Per my (Excel's) calculations, that was 186 days ago. The Senators won 6-1 in Boston that afternoon but it is a vastly different team tonight. Mika Zibanejad and Alex Chiasson have been traded. Nick Paul, Curtis Lazar, Buddy Robinson are in the AHL and Matt Puempel is a healthy scratch. On defence, Ben Harpur, Fredrik Claesson and Mike Kostka or now back in the AHL, so exactly half of the 18 skaters will be different tonight.
Derick Brassard will make his Senators debut tonight and is going to start the season as the second line centre with Bobby Ryan and Zack Smith. The first line unit of Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone that was so dominant at times last year will be together to start the year. The bottom six has Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ryan Dzingel and it's best to leave it at that.
On defence, the Senators made no improvements to the defence that was rather terrible last season, hoping that the change in coaching and systems will fill in the gap. They do still have the league's best defenceman in Erik Karlsson while Mark Borowiecki's baffling run on an actual NHL roster continues.
Here are the expected lines and pairings for tonight:
Hoffman - Turris - Stone
Smith - Brassard - Ryan
Varone - Pageau - Pyatt
Dzingel - Kelly - Neil
Methot - Karlsson
Phaneuf - Ceci
Borowiecki - Wideman
Some notes for tonight:
- Erik Karlsson was robbed of his third Norris Trophy despite one of the greatest seasons by a defenceman in NHL history. Maybe he will score 100 points instead this season.
- Let's hope Cody Ceci has improved a lot over the offseason because neither Marc Methot or Dion Phaneuf are good enough to carry the second pairing. If Ceci has taken a step forward though, this could be a decent top four.
- Karlsson's next goal will tie him with Wade Redden for the most career goals by a Senators defenceman. He is 24 assists and 25 points behind Redden in those categories. Tonight will be his 250th consecutive regular season game since returning from the Achilles injury.
- Bobby Ryan has been a disappointment with Ottawa so far, and with the presence of Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, he should never be a first line winger on this team. He will be looking for his first 60 points season since 2010-2011. Would you back him to ever do it again?
- Derick Brassard is reasonably priced at $5 million per season and has 60 and 58 points over the last two seasons. Brassard's 40 power play points over the last two seasons are 30th among forwards. Can he lift Ryan's game?
- Hey Chris Neil actually got re-signed, so there is that. And Chris Kelly is back in Ottawa and apparently still plays hockey!
- Jean-Gabriel is entering the last year of his contract and is coming off a season with 19 goals and 43 points. He should be in line for a very nice raise with a similar season.
- The Senators are expected to finish near the bottom of the league this season, although I think they have too many high-end players to be quite that bad. With some luck, they might even grab a wild card spot before being trounced in round one. There aren't many people that would expect anything more than that though.
- The Leafs have a lot of buzz around them thanks to their lineup full of young stars including Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. They might not make the playoffs this year, but that team is certainly trending up.
Here are some stats for the two teams tonight for last season. All stats are from NHL.com except Corsi and Fenwick are from www.puckon.net.
|Points||Erik Karlsson||82||Nazem Kadri||45|
|Shots||Erik Karlsson||248||Nazem Kadri||260|
|Average Ice time||Erik Karlsson||28:58||Morgan Rielly||23:13|
|Event, Score and venue adjusted Corsi %||47.9%||22nd||49.7%||18th|
|Event, Score and venue adjusted Fenwick %||47.7%||22nd||48.3%||21st|