I was really hoping to write tons of scathing remarks about the Ottawa Senators for their dreadful losing streak, so I was looking at the Los Angeles Kings to absolutely demolish an injury-and-COVID-riddled lineup by a 6-1 score or something similar. Instead of that, we get two deflected goals and Jonathan Quick returning to Cup-winning form? Boring!
When their low-end roster is supposedly at its weakest, they put together two performances in which you couldn’t realistically ask for much more. There are tons of reasons to be upset, but there are also quite a few reasons not to lose hope, at least not yet.
Thomson Impresses in First NHL Game
The success of the Senators’ rebuild has always been dependent on their wealth of prospects developing into a wealth of quality NHL players. With a significant number of players out of the lineup, we had the opportunity to get our first look at one of those players in Lassi Thomson, the 19th pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. As a right-shot defenseman, Thomson is one of a few options in the system to become part of the Senators’ second pair in the future, and earned a passing grade from D.J. Smith, Thomas Chabot, and most importantly, IAN MENDES, in his first NHL game last week.
DJ Smith - We had some great efforts back there. Lassi Thomson was great. Looks like he's been in the league for a while. Heatherington has never even practiced with us and he was real good. I thought our guys couldn't play much harder.— TSN 1200 (@TSN1200) November 12, 2021
Thomas Chabot said Lassi Thomson looked like he belonged in the NHL.— Murray Pam (@Pammerhockey) November 12, 2021
After watching that period, I'm starting to think Lassi Thomson is already an NHL defenceman....— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) November 12, 2021
Despite yet another loss, it’s more important that young players like Thomson continue to progress to the point of being regular contributors in the NHL. Egor Sokolov is also getting an opportunity to show what he can do, and I’m hoping to see a bit of Jacob Bernard-Docker this season as well.
Stützle’s Sophomore Slump is a Myth
After Tim Stützle scored 29 points in 53 games in his rookie campaign, we were all hoping for a jump in production this year, as it would bring Ottawa closer to a playoff spot for the first time since 2017. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, as the 3rd-overall pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft has just 5 assists in 13 games. Not only does he lack the proper support up front due to injuries and a pre-existing lack of talent on the roster, but Stützle himself doesn’t appear to be ready to break out offensively this season. Which is perfectly fine, by the way. He’s still only 19 years of age, and a forward that skilled going scoreless on 23 shots has to be considered unlucky. I’d be concerned if the flaws he’d shown in his two-way game last season were still present, but that isn’t the case. In fact, he’s gone from being one of the worst players in the entire league in that regard to being one of the best on his team. His 5-on-5 expected goals share (per NaturalStatTrick) ranks second among Sens forwards who’ve been regulars in the lineup. So, it’d be presumptuous to state that his game hasn’t improved by leaps and bounds over the offseason. He may end up with fewer points than he had last season, but if his strong play continues, it will only be to the benefit of the Senators in the long run.
Filip Gustavsson is a Blessing
The Senators have really struggled in the goaltending department in the last several years, since Craig Anderson’s valiant effort in the 2017 playoffs. Pittsburgh may have gotten the better of them back then, but the team was at least able to strike back in the following year by nabbing Filip Gustavsson in the Derick Brassard trade. The 23-year-old Swede has a .917 save percentage and a 2-3-1 record thus far and is currently the team’s number-one goalie with no signs of slowing down. Should he successfully blossom into the team’s long-term starter, it will solidify a key position for several years, all the way through the contracts of Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, and Thomas Chabot. As an added bonus, Matt Murray’s contract only has two years after this one, and while it’s not ideal for a backup goalie to have a cap hit of over $6 million, Gustavsson’s value makes up for it. The two should be an effective tandem for at least a while.
That One Time The Senators Signed Someone Good
Tyler Ennis may not necessarily factor into the Senators’ plans after this season, but it’s still worthwhile to discuss his contributions in a Senators’ uniform, and how he’s managed to stand out among Ottawa free agent acquisitions over the years. Clarke MacArthur brought fantastic value to the team’s top-six while he was here, and Zub is Zub, but out of the rest, Ennis has been a definitive success in the nation’s capital, having scored 40 points in 73 games with the Senators in parts of two seasons. He’s been in the league for a long time but he’s struggled to find a place where he truly belonged. He couldn’t be “the guy” in Buffalo, he was bought out by Minnesota, and the Leafs chose not to bring him back after a decent year, presumably because the $100k raise was too much for them to stomach. Then he ends up in Ottawa, where he fit in very well with D.J. Smith’s system. They traded him to Edmonton at the deadline that year, but he had a rough go of it over there, and he returned to the Senators on a PTO, signed a one-year deal, and he’s back to providing depth scoring for a team that desperately needs it. A rare win for the team’s professional scouting, it’s a shame Ennis didn’t find the Senators until the twilight of his career.
Are We Expecting Too Much From D.J. Smith?
Speaking of D.J. Smith, how does one go about evaluating his performance as a coach? It seemed like the majority of people were happy with him in his first season with the team, but frustration levels seem to have gone up over the years. Expectations of him have been raised each year, which isn’t good for a coach who’s been fairly stagnant during his tenure. I’d argue, however, that our expectations of the coach should be based on the team that’s built by the general manager. Let’s be real, Ottawa never stood a chance at a playoff spot without significant development from Tim Stützle (unlucky), Shane Pinto (injured), and others, and as much as we love Nick Paul, it’s hard to imagine winning hockey games with him as our second-line center. Let’s keep giving D.J. a chance, the players love him and work hard for him and he’s yet to take a good hockey team and hold them back from success, which is more than we can say about some other coaches.