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October Reflections: A Promising Start To a Long Season Ahead

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Everything is falling into place.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

***editor’s note: Today we’re debuting a new feature as part of Longform Wednesday. At the end of each month, the intrepid N_Dewie will look back and share her thoughts and feelings on what came before. Think of this as an expanded Three Stars, and a lighthearted companion to some of our more rigorous stats-based articles. Please let us know what you think in the comments. —nkb***

It’s already the end of October, the month we all love the most for its colourful trees, sweater weather, pumpkin spice everything and of course: the start of our beloved hockey season. This year, Sens fans went in with extremely low expectations and rightfully so. But let’s be honest, it’s not always easy to watch so many consecutive losses. It will be worth it in the end, and just remember, this is a long season so let’s try to find some enjoyment in this mess.

In this piece, we’ll re-visit some of the surprises, disappointments and everything in-between from the Sens’ first 11 games of the season.

Record: 11 games played, 3-7-1 for 7 points and 29th Overall

Pleasant Surprises

  • Mark Borowiecki — Last year wasn’t the greatest for Boro, in part because he was alienated from some of the fans after his infamous interview with Eugene Melnyk. His on-ice performance didn’t stand out enough to garner him any extra points, and most expected the same from him this season. In a refreshing turn of events, his play seems markedly steadier, and he’s playing a smarter and more aggressive style, often finding himself in spots for good offensive opportunities. He had five points all of last season and is already looking good to double that number with three points this month alone. Additionally, his role was never to rack up scoring but to provide some stability in the defensive zone and I’ve noticed him skating and engaging in the play a lot more efficiently this season.
  • Vladislav Namestnikov — Early on in the season, Pierre Dorion decided to trade for Namestnikov to add some offensive flare to the team. In nine games played with the Sens, he has seven points (4G, 3A) and is proving to be an extremely valuable and entertaining player to watch. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Namestnikov is making a good case for himself to be re-signed. If he continues to flourish in the top-six he may become a long term investment for the Sens.
  • Connor Brown — I have to say, I didn’t expect to be impressed by any of the ex-Leafs that the Sens accumulated this season. I’m still of the same mindset with one notable exception: Connor Brown. He has been extremely reliable on whichever line he’s been placed, and has earned himself some big minutes playing alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau. There is no doubt the two have clicked. While he only scored his first goal against the Sharks on Sunday night, he is currently the team’s point leader with ten points in eleven games.

Bright Spots

  • Anthony Duclair — I really want Duclair to succeed in Ottawa - I think his speed and pure skill can power a very dangerous player with some good coaching and discipline. So far this season, he hasn’t disappointed. He has been a driver almost every night and his penalty killing minutes are becoming increasingly valuable. With four goals already on the season, I expect even greater things to come from Duclair.
  • Logan Brown and Nick Paul — I only lumped them together because they both hadn’t been able to get a fair shake previously from this organization. But they’re really starting to shine in the past few games and demand their minutes. Two men’s injuries are another two men’s opportunities, I guess. It will be interesting to see if they can keep D.J. Smith’s confidence with their performances by the time Colin White and Artem Anisimov come back, or if they will once again struggle to make their mark on the team. One thing is for sure: the power play is in desperate need of Logan Brown’s creativity and quick puck movement.
  • The San Jose Sharks’ performance so far. Could we be getting a bonus top-ten draft pick this summer?

Disappointments

I think the biggest disappointment to us all is that Eugene Melnyk is still the owner of this team. But alas, there have been a few players who have added to the frustrations:

  • Tyler Ennis — Most times, people forget he’s even on the team. He had a good game against the New York Islanders with two goals but that was the first and only game where he was productive in any way.
  • Drake Batherson — I still think Batherson will find his way back to Ottawa but I had extremely high hopes for the kid. He just looked lost in the pre-season and never recovered. While he wasn’t given a ton of time in Ottawa to prove himself, personally I’m glad the Sens recognized the issue right away and gave him a chance to regroup with less pressure in Belleville.
  • Bobby Ryan — I don’t know if you can still be disappointed with Ryan at this point, but he has become almost unwatchable most games. Smith decided to send a message about accountability by scratching against the Sharks, and personally I think there is no longer a need or place for Ryan on the team — especially with the amount of talent in the farm team.

Some More Thoughts and Feelings:

We all knew this was going to be a long season but the team is working hard. They lack experience and pure skill, but there have been many lost games that were at least satisfying to watch. For his first month, Smith has looked like he can get the best out of most players. Other than the power play, I think the coaching staff has done a good job to keep this team headed in the right direction.

In a season where most fans are happy with losses, the most we can hope for is entertaining games and some hope for the future. With players like Chabot, Tkachuk and even Brännström who is still adjusting to the NHL, it’s hard to ignore that this team can become extremely enjoyable in the near future. A few more wins is always nice but I can’t say I’m disappointed with the team so far.

Unfortunately, tank seasons like this one mean a huge portion of the fan base losing interest, and while the Melnyk situation may be the main driver, attendance numbers of less than 10,000 have become a concern. I am not saying we should all go back to financially supporting Melnyk nor am I saying that the low attendance will get us in trouble because the Sens are not moving. But doesn’t a young team already struggling deserve some hometown support? The problem is no longer tied to attendance alone - social media is flooded with once dedicated fans who no longer truly care about games or the team altogether. I hope this team is able to sway some people back from their apathetic state even if it means a few more wins to jeopardize that lottery “win”.

There will be more losses, more injuries, more Melnyk lawsuits and probably more trades that could go in any direction. But one thing is for sure, this team is a work in progress for a product that seems like it will be worth the wait. The Sens were reminded early on this season of the two franchise players they so easily let go in Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone, but now, at last, we can watch new stars emerge in their place. One has to wonder if the long awaited Cup contending team will ever come under Melnyk. I choose to believe that we’ve seen the worst of this franchise and that the light at the end of the tunnel is coming soon. And yes, that does include a new owner and the team we have longed for since Chris Kunitz crushed all our dreams.

Here’s to a November filled with Tkachuk goals and a whole lot of exciting games.