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November Reflections: Some Surprising Success to Ease the Tank Pain

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You can’t ignore this team’s potential.

NHL: NOV 20 Senators at Canadiens Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

November started with a troubling game against the Boston Bruins, with a tough loss and some major injuries, but things settled well afterwards.

The biggest takeaway from this past month was the confusion among fans on whether to enjoy the wins or cheer for losses. There were brief moments where folks were adding up the points to a wildcard spot, and it was fun until reality set in by the end of the month. Nobody is expecting this team to make the playoffs, but their wins have certainly been entertaining and worth cheering for.

Let’s recap an eventful month filled with injuries, unexpected wins and a few unknown circumstances.

Record: 27 games played, 11-15-1 for 23 points and 29th in the NHL

November Record: 8-8-0

Pleasant Surprises

  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau — You might think that nobody should be surprised by Pageau’s performance. But the truth is, he has surpassed all expectations set for him at the beginning of the season. He has been unstoppable all month, leading the team in goals (14) and points (20). In the past 16 games alone, he’s amassed 14 points (11G, 3A) and even scored a hat trick. The Senators needed Pageau to step up beyond his usual role and become the mentor the new kids needed, and he has not disappointed. He’s been making everyone he plays with that much better, and has truly contributed to the Sens’ success this month. Whether this increases his trade value or just helps the young kids develop, Pageau has put this team in a very good position.
  • Filip Chlapik — He may only have five points on the season, but Chlapik has quietly transitioned very well to the NHL life. In fairness, he still hasn’t had an opportunity to showcase his full potential, but the promise can be seen. Instead of getting “buried” on the fourth line, Chlapik has been using every limited chance he gets on the ice to make an impression, and I think he may be rewarded soon.
  • D.J. Smith — While it’s easier to coach a team destined to tank, coach Smith has impressed in his ability to get the best out of this team considering the circumstances. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I am certainly impressed with how Smith has been handling the team; in particular with how he holds under-performing players accountable. A couple differences with the team this season have been their ability to bounce back after a blow-out game, and the more structured and focused manner in which they play.

Bright Spots

  • Anthony Duclair — The Duke continues to take a top spot on this list as his performance has only improved since last month. His goal production went up from four goals in October to six in November, giving him the #2 honours on the Senators’ goal leaders list. He’s using his speed and skill to create chances in all situations, even adding two powerplay goals this month. There were question marks surrounding his work ethic when he arrived in Ottawa, but, so far, the pending RFA is putting himself on the priority list for Sens’ management to extend.
  • Brady Tkachuk — It seems like this kid impresses everyone a bit more with every game he plays. He continues to be a thorn in the side of every opponent he faces while clearly showing that he has worked extensively on his skating. No matter the result of the game, you can at least rely on Tkachuk attempting to create some opportunities for himself. If for nothing else, his overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens alone garners him a Star Of The Month.
  • Thomas Chabot — Chabot seems to be leading the team in more ways than can be counted. He leads the team in ice time and shots attempted, and is second in points. While he matched his point total from October (8 points), he has shown consistent improvement throughout the month. At this point, Chabot is still in seasoning mode and some growing pains are to be expected. But when he has a fantastic game, he can be extremely dangerous. With a bit more experience and maybe a better partner, I think Chabot will continue to be a bright spot for the team for a long time to come.

Disappointments

  • The Detroit Red Wings — If you’re a part of tank nation, you will agree. While the Sens were winning more than a few games, the Wings have perfected their tank process by a never-ending losing streak. It would be nice if they could win a few for a change.
  • Erik Brännström — I’m not a fan of putting the younger players on this list, but I think Brännström will need to start improving his play soon. He’s been a healthy scratch a few times already and hasn’t played more than 14 minutes in a single game. While he hasn’t been making glaringly bad mistakes, he also hasn’t played well enough to earn more playing time. For a player with the potential to be a top-2 defenceman, Brännström may need a little more AHL conditioning, unless he can string together some impressive games.
  • Colin White — Coming off an injury plus a conditioning stint this month, White has been less than impressive. I’m hoping he is just taking a little longer to adjust from his injury, but I think we’ve seen much better from him before. It’s also concerning that White’s performance has significantly dropped since the Mark Stone trade, so let’s hope he can start adjusting soon.

Some More Thoughts and Feelings

This team is not seasoned enough to make the playoffs, and winning a few games won’t change this fact. Whether they finish 28th or 31st essentially matters very little as they would still be getting a very good player in the draft either way. A true focus of this season is developing this team the proper way, and D.J. Smith has them moving in the right direction in that area. The kids in Belleville are putting up an impressive display, so I think they have a good future ahead regardless of which player they draft this summer.

The schedule wasn’t friendly to the Sens in October, and while there were no long breaks in November, it was a road-heavy month. One of the things D.J. Smith may need to work on is their road performances, as the Sens lost all four games on the road in October and followed a similar trend in November winning only four of eleven (36%). While at home, the Sens won four of five (80%), clearly showing that they prefer their home-ice advantage. It follows a similar trend to October where all three of their wins also came at home.

There are other performances that have been both a highlight and a bit of frustration for the team, but that can be expected in any given month. I think the Sens’ goaltending has been the least consistent and hardest area to assess, but it seems like Nilsson is gaining a bigger advantage on Anderson (his last two games notwithstanding). Dylan DeMelo continues to be a fan favourite for both his off-ice charisma and his subtle but solid on-ice plays. A player to watch in December is Logan Brown, who was hit by the injury bug and has yet to return to form.

The next few months will be interesting for the Sens. The decisions management makes will shape the rest of the season, and the most important of those in the short term will be Pageau’s future with the team. No matter the return, it will be a hard trade to make. Pageau has become a symbol of an era so dear to Sens fans, and he’s given this city so many memories and key performances that I can only imagine how great his tribute video will be. There is also the risk that the performances of players such as Duclair and Tkachuk would be affected if he’s gone. But in a rebuilding season, the hardest decisions are usually the ones that will serve the team best.

December is always a special month. With thirteen games to come I only wish for more powerplay goals, a Pageau extension (as nice as a first round pick would be), and another OT beauty by Tkachuk against the Habs.