Like many of his teammates have recently, Mike Hoffman succumbed to the same flu that has made its way around the Senators’ dressing room and was unable to play against the league leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.
The illness that has seemingly cost defenseman Mark Borowiecki four games hit Hoffman hard.
“There was a 24-hour span where I didn’t consume more than a couple hundred calories,” said the 27-year-old after today’s morning skate. “So that’s usually not too good.”
Though the Senators were able to bounce back after their brutal 7-6 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday with a huge 3-0 win against the Capitals, Hoffman’s presence was definitely missed. In his last seven games, the talented left winger with an absolute rocket for a shot has scored seven times.
“I think it’s just one of those times throughout the season where you catch a little hot streak,” said Hoffman. “It’s not like I’ve changed anything in those seven games and previous, however many we’ve played so far. Sometimes you catch fire a little bit, your shots seem to find the back of the net.”
Some thought his game would suffer on the third line, after Zack Smith somewhat pushed Hoffman out of the top six when he was serving his two-game suspension for cross-checking Logan Couture in the back of the head, but the exact opposite has occurred.
Playing alongside Tom Pyatt and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the three have formed a well-balanced trio that has been relentless in the offensive zone at even strength.
“I’m not sure how many games we’ve been together,” Hoffman admitted. “But we’re getting chances and we’re scoring most games five-on-five, which is huge. I think it adds a solid three lines to our lineup that can contribute offensively. They do work very well down in the corners, two smaller, shifty guys that can turn away from the big, defensive bodies that are in this league and then my job is just to get open in the slot and them try to get me the puck.”
After a less-than-favourable start to the season - 4 goals in 20 games - Hoffman is now showing why general manager Pierre Dorion was smart to sign the goal scoring machine to a four-year extension last summer.
Wingels to Debut, Neil to Sit
The newest Senator was on the ice in Ottawa for the first time today. Tommy Wingels will draw into the lineup as it is expected that veteran forward Chris Neil will be a healthy scratch with the Calgary Flames in town.
The biggest task for the newly acquired depth forward is to learn the system, that’s no secret. But as head coach Guy Boucher states, they’re prepared for it to take some time.
“If you look at the other players on our team,” explained Boucher in his noon press conference. “It took them a good month and a half to really start getting what we’re doing. So, if I’m expecting this player to come in and right away do everything that we’re doing and do it perfectly, I’m sadly mistaken.”
“He needs to understand the core of what we’re doing, the most important stuff, but he also has to have somewhat of a free mind going in. He’s a heart player, he’s a first-on-puck guy, he’s a great PK player and that’s what I want him to do. My advice to him is come in and make mistakes of commission because you’re going, not because you’re omitting and you’re not doing anything because you’re scared to make a mistake. Go out there and make mistakes, we’ll correct you.”
Wingels was in Ottawa yesterday going over video with the coaching staff, getting his first taste of the Senators’ philosophy, strategy and structure. It’s safe to say that there was a lot for the former San Jose Shark to take in.
“(Guy Boucher’s) attention to detail is as impressive as I’ve ever seen,” said Wingels after his first practice with the team. “I’ve been through some pretty good coaches with coach (Todd) McLellan and coach (Pete) Deboer. I think he’s certainly up there. His attention to detail, his knowledge of the game, his passion for the game is second to none. I think that kind of stuff is contagious. When you see a coach do that, the players feel that way, too.”
The Senators’ success up until now should mostly be credited to the team’s overall willingness to follow orders and adapt. Erik Karlsson is playing a ton of minutes on the penalty kill, Hoffman’s game has never been more well-rounded, Cody Ceci is taking on huge five-on-five duties and Neil is playing less than he ever has.
Like the hard working, dedicated soldier he’s described to be, Wingels should have no problem fitting in.
“The break comes at a perfect time for him,” said Boucher. “It’ll give him some time to look at some video. He has, we kind of overwhelmed him yesterday, but today is more about trimming it down to just a few things to make sure he’s at the right places. He’s a very smart player, so I’m sure he’ll be okay.”
Have a Night, Freddy
In his fourth straight game drawing into the lineup, Freddy Claesson finally broke through on the scoresheet. In the first five minutes of the game against the Capitals on Tuesday night, the Stockholm native recorded not one, but two assists to give the Senators an early 2-0 lead.
“Yeah, first two shifts,” Claesson recalled this afternoon. “It’s fun to get some points, but it’s even better to get the win.”
With the two assists, the 24-year-old matched his career high he set last season in Ottawa, but he’s still yet to find the back of the net by himself in the NHL. When that day does come, though, he’s definitely got a celebration in mind.
“Oh yeah, I know for sure,” said Claesson. “If you’ve seen the goals I’ve had in the past, you’ll know.”
It’s not certain yet - Boucher is still waiting until game time to confirm - but Borowiecki is likely to miss his fifth straight game with the flu, so Claesson will draw in for his fifth straight game.