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February Reflections

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A month of goodbyes and welcome backs

Vancouver Canucks v Ottawa Senators Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

The trade deadline: the event that defines every February in the NHL. Compared to previous years, the stress levels in Ottawa were a lot more reasonable — to say the least.

The month began with a 5-game losing streak and that unfortunately seemed to set the tone for the rest of what was to come. A month that saw us lose JG Pageau and Dylan DeMelo as well as lose twice to the Leafs, get blown out by the Sabres, and shut out by the Canadiens really did put a strain on the fanbase.

On the other hand, strong performances by Marcus Hogberg, Connor Brown and an unexpected comeback by Bobby Ryan gave us something to smile about.

Record: 66 games played, 23-31-12 for 58 points and 29th in the NHL

February Record: 4-8-3

Home Record: 4-5-1 Road Record: 0-3-2

Pleasant Surprises

Bobby Ryan: No matter how you felt about Ryan in the past, news of his absence was a concern. His comeback came at a time when Sens fans needed something to feel hopeful about and Ryan didn’t disappoint. In his first game back against the Vancouver Canucks, he not only scored a goal but he netted a hat trick which resulted in an inspirational ovation from a fan base that was starving for something positive to cheer about.

Marcus Hogberg: There was a time when the Ottawa Senators were a goalie graveyard. Nobody can deny that we’ve suffered through some painful experiences ranging from Pascal Leclaire to Brian Elliott. Craig Anderson brought us some good fortune but in the last few years the future looks brightest of all. The first prospect to emerge is Marcus Hogberg, who has been given the opportunity of a lifetime this season and has seized it impressively. He has played with creativity and confidence, and has handled a heavy workload with minimal support from his teammates’ at time porous defense. He’s fitting nicely into the NHL pace and he will have no issues holding on a bigger role on the team next season, assuming Andy is retiring.

Connor Brown: Offense hasn’t been a strong point for the Sens this season (not much has been really) but Brown has been providing some stability to a team that needs veteran leadership. He is leading the team in points, is second in assists and showing his true potential this month. Who would have thought the Leafs could actually do us some good? There was a lot of concern about a dip in Brown’s performance post the Pageau trade, but he has flourished both in an offensive and defensive role.

Bright Spots

Thomas Chabot: We truly are blessed. I feel like this season has been far from Chabot’s best performance, yet he’s been shouldering a lot of weight almost effortlessly. With the departure of Dylan DeMelo and the injury to Mark Borowiecki, Chabot’s minutes have gone up considerably. He is first on the team in assists, power play points and is leading the league in time on ice. Unfortunately, it may be a while before Chabot gets any viable support but in the meantime, we’re lucky to have him be the cornerstone and mentor of the future defense group.

Craig Anderson: I have never loved a goalie in Sens uniform as much as I’ve loved Andy (not even the late Ray Emery) and he continues to impress. He has been absolutely professional about giving the younger and (now) better goalies a chance to shine and has done extremely well when he was called upon lately while Nilsson has been injured. He had requested to stay in Ottawa and, luckily for us, he may retire a Senator. With Hogberg injured as well, he may see some more ice time and I think he’s demontrated that he can still handle a reasonable workload. Just a reminder of his show stopping save against the Leafs a few weeks ago:

Drake Batherson: While Batherson has been re-assigned to the Belleville Senators; he did spend the majority of the month in Ottawa and did leave a mark to remember in the process. In 11 games played in February, he had 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) but more importantly he did prove that he was NHL ready and earned some considerable ice time from DJ Smith logging over 15 minutes in most games played. More conditioning on a winning team will only do him good but for Drake Batherson, a permanent Ottawa residence is not too far in the future.

Disappointments

Ron Hainsey: I really don’t understand what his role is on the team other than to fill a spot and make sure we hit the cap floor? Maybe I’m being a bit harsh but it seems the game has long passed him by, even on a struggling team that needs any kind of guidance and standout performance. It’s frustrating to watch him play and even more frustrating to see Dorion think he deserves a longer look on this roster.

Scott Sabourin: Just like Hainsey, I don’t see how his spot cannot be utilized by a younger player who could use some NHL development. I do realize this is not extremely important to the team so I don’t feel as strongly about him being in Ottawa but I am yet to be impressed by anything he has done.

Nikita Zaitsev: I had hoped he would be marginally better than Cody Ceci and he is in many ways. However, you have to look at the Sens’ commitment to Zaitsev and wonder how he makes any sense on this at this point. He cannot handle any tough competition and his mistakes are becoming more and more costly to the team. I fear that in the long run, he could start holding down one of the younger guys that he’s paired with.

More Thoughts

  • I was pretty upset when Pageau was traded, more because I felt that Pierre Dorion didn’t handle the situation properly. Regardless of the return, maybe this trade needed to happen. Maybe it was a way for fans to truly move on from that terrible storm we’ve been hit with the past few season. Do I trust Dorion with the upcoming rebuild? Not exactly, but one must at least give him credit for his drafting abilities and nothing will shape this rebuild as much as this upcoming NHL draft.
  • Speaking of Dorion, he did do well in the Pageau trade but the more I think about the other trades he made , the more I come to the conculsion that he can never be trusted in that area. While there is always the crowd that says his hands are tied, I’m from the thinking that a good GM should not have his hands tied that many times.
  • Bobby Ryan has come back motivated and inspired. It’s difficult to truly focus on your game when your mind is in a whirlwind and him taking the first step to recovery may mean a new life for him on and off the ice. Maybe it won’t matter this year, but when Ryan is “on” he can be absolutely lethal and that is the kind of mentorship you want the likes of Tkachuk, Batherson and Formenton to be part of.
  • While the future is bright, the fans want something good to happen now. The days of waiting will not last long and Sens management should be aware of that by now. How much would a first overall draft pick help improve sales? I think that may be the only thing to save the team’s connection to the fans at this point.
  • The Sens haven’t been great on the road all season, but this month they also managed to lose every single away game this month. Their home record wasn’t much more impressive considering the volume of home games played but they managed to grab points in 50% of the games. For this season, it doesn’t have a very strong impact however, in the long term development of the team, DJ Smith needs to make sure his team can win regularly on the road.
  • With the playoffs looming, we take up the traidition of picking a team to bandwagon on and which team to passionately cheer against. One thing is for sure, it will be another long off-season for the Sens and possibly the most crucial one in many years.

For me, March is the best month of the year, and I am hoping for some more excitement from the team or maybe a miracle of some sort (in the draft? new ownership?). Maybe some optimism after all.