Well, last night was fun.
Snapping a nine-game losing streak, and earning their second victory on the year, the Ottawa Senators won a hard-fought road game over the Montreal Canadiens, by a final score of 3-2. While fans obviously relished this on its own, chief among the reasons for excitement were the performances by Ottawa’s young stars.
All of that and much more, in Five Thoughts for Friday, February 5th, 2021.
Rumours of Tim Stützle not being ready for the NHL have been greatly exaggerated.
Despite some early criticism rooted mainly in uninspiring on-ice shot metrics, the 19 year-old German sensation has emphatically staked his claim to an NHL roster spot. On what was an ugly, arduous road trip, Stützle only got better with each passing game, and finished with a goal in each of his last two games against the Edmonton Oilers.
Things only continued to heat up last night, with Stützle adding another goal and his first two assists in a 3-2 victory over the vaunted Canadiens.
With four goals on the year now, and a Corsi rating that has improved to 47.27%, Stützle is growing into an impact player right before our eyes. The challenge is finding him consistent linemates. Stützle’s played with a couple of different centres and wingers already, and pairing him with some complementary forwards will be key going forward.
As Stützle continues to get comfortable, expect to see more improvement.
Getting Up Off the Matt
Through the Senators’ early-season struggles, goaltending has been one of the hottest points of contention. Matt Murray has unfortunately found himself the main recipient of such criticism, given his championship pedigree, and lucrative contract. While some carping was likely unfair due to the small sample size, and current circumstances, Murray has admitted himself that he needs to be better.
Efforts like last night’s will certainly help.
Murray was marvelous against the Canadiens, stopping 36 of 38 shots to earn his second victory as an Ottawa Senator. The manner in which he made these saves was perhaps most impressive, made timely stop after timely stop; something that neither he nor Marcus Hogberg have been able to do so far, especially on the penalty kill. Ottawa was 4/4 when down a man, and much of that can be attributed to their netminder.
Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
Puck-Moving Up the Depth Chart
In the midst of Ottawa’s nine-game losing streak, cries of “play the kids” from the fans were earth-shatteringly loud, especially when it came to the blue line. Smith’s deployment of Braydon Coburn, and Josh Brown in particular seemed like it was doomed to fail, especially against the speed and skill that defines the North division.
Through three games since his insertion into the lineup, newcomer Artem Zub has received rave reviews. Two assists is impressive in its own right, but Zub has also been rock-solid in the back end, with a Corsi rating of 57.35%. Of course, fans would do well that to remember that the sample size is small, but an argument could be made that Zub is Ottawa’s best right-handed defender, at the moment. Nikita Zaitsev remains in the conversation as well, though.
In another lineup change, Erik Brännström also made his debut last night. He added an assist on Connor Brown’s goal, and looked good in his first taste of 2021 action. Brännström’s quickness was a sight for sore eyes on the Ottawa blue line, and if he keeps this up, he may earn himself a permanent residence.
I’ve already gotten my fair share of flack for liking the Derek Stepan trade at the time, and it’s entirely possible that I was wrong, but I stand by my assessment. What Stepan brings to the table in terms of intangibles is a valuable asset for a young team. While his on-ice play has been decent, it hasn’t been good enough for the Senators’ assessment.
Amid reports that the team is actively shopping Stepan, Bruce Garrioch acknowledged last night that things haven’t worked out so far. He also suggested that Stepan has been in Smith’s dog house since a costly puck-over-glass penalty against the Winnipeg Jets, and that Ottawa needs to find a role for the veteran forward.
I’m inclined to agree with this point. I think Stepan can be a useful player when he has a clearly defined role. Bumping him back and forth between the bottom three lines, and cycling him through every winger on the roster is not conducive to success for anyone.
Besides, if you want to move Stepan, it’s hard to imagine his value is very high at the moment. Ottawa needs to pump his tires a bit before going down that road.
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the NHL doesn’t get to finish their season due to COVID-19 (again), but they’ve had to sail through some rocky waters to begin the year.
With nearly 100 players added to the COVID list already, and games being postponed on a seemingly daily basis. Understandable when you consider that 20% of the NHL’s American teams are currently shut down.
With new, more contagious variants circulating around the world, it’s hard to imagine that this bodes well for the league. While it’s possible, and perhaps even probable that the NHL will get through their year like the NFL did, the growing list of games that need to be rescheduled within a short window pose all sorts of problems.
We’ll have to see what happens going forward, but for now, the NHL is walking a razor-thin line. They may need to take a pause for a week or two at some point, in order to break potential chains of transmission.
Canadian teams remain clean, so far...