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Five Thoughts for a Friday: Shoooot

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Powerplays, Prospects, and Pain

Ottawa Senators v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

In the immortal words of one Gord Wilson, it wasn’t the result you were hoping for tonight, coach. Any time you can make Toronto sweat a little bit though (especially on no rest, with your fifth goaltender in net, and a roster held together with bits of string) that’s a dub. It seems like the more injuries this team sustains, the more confusing the roster looks, and the less we play against Edmonton, the sicker the sickos get. And so, in a lot of ways, last night’s game against Toronto felt quintessentially 2021 Senators. Short-handed Connor Brown goal on a Jack Campbell turnover? Let’s go. Waiver claim goalie outperforming Toronto’s regulars? Sign me up. Savour those little victories, folks. What else have we got?

On the obvious solution to Ottawa’s powerplay woes

I rightfully ate it in the comments on Monday night when I put my foot in my mouth mis-identifying Ottawa’s powerplay defenders so I wanted to clear up a point that I probably shouldn’t have tried to shoe-horn into a bullet point in a game recap. In summary, Erik Brännström ranks first in corsi-for, fenwick-for, and expected goals-for per 60 among Ottawa defenders on the powerplay, with Mike Reilly and Thomas Chabot coming second and third. With Chabot and Reilly combining for about 45 minutes of ice time per game, it seems like a safe gambit to throw Bonestorm out there for the 15-minute balance as a powerplay specialist and then some. I’m likely preaching to the choir on this one, as most of us have clamoured for Brännström all season. I had to complete my thought from Monday night, though.

On winning it for the culture

When the North Dakota Senators Fighting Hawks won the NCHC championship last week, it may not have represented much more than a feather in our collective caps. However, in terms of Sens culture and team identity, I consider it worth mentioning the significance of NoDak eliminating Denver University and St. Cloud based on the representations those teams have for some of Ottawa’s rivals. Denver has three Tampa Bay Lightning prospects including starting goaltender Magnus Chrona, along with Carter Savoie of the Oilers’ system, Bobby Brink (Philadelphia), and other prospects representing Florida, Detroit, and Montreal. St. Cloud has yet another Lightning prospect along with Veeti Mietttinen out of Toronto’s system. Players remember playoff games even at the college level and I like to hope that the future Senators at NoDak gained some confidence defeating players they could square off against in the NHL in the not-so-distant future.

On the Calder conversation

With so much focus on the discussion around Tim Stützle and Kirill Kaprizov, we really can’t overlook Josh Norris’ rookie campaign for the Calder. Even if Norris doesn’t get a tonne of votes for the award, his combination of point production, drawing penalties, and winning faceoffs while putting up really impressive nerd stats makes Norris so unique. Much like we learned when Erik Karlsson got ripped off of Norris and Hart votes and when Mark Stone failed to collect enough Calder or Selke votes, simply having a player of such a calibre deserves celebration. Even if he doesn’t bring home the hardware, we need to appreciate that Ottawa has a special player in Norris. He can be our little secret.

On the painful truth

With Christian Wolanin the latest former fan-favourite prospect to fall out of organizational favour this season, I find it hard not to dwell on the fact that in the cases of Wolanin, Rudolfs Balcers, and Max Lajoie, we can pinpoint the injuries that all but certainly spelled the end of their careers as Senators. While we’ll still have much broader conversations on this site about the fates of these players and what it indicates about the Senators’ developmental processes, I would argue that we could attribute a lot of the outcome to the chaotic nature of professional sport and the lottery of health that players enter when they start their careers. Even A-grade prospects like Logan Brown get bit by the injury bug and face questions about their futures. For fringe prospects, the proposition is dubious to say the least. In the cases of the players listed above, the outlook always seemed compromised after missing a half-season or more in key developmental years. Realistically we were foolish not to cut emotional ties sooner. I don’t endorse the team’s callousness in discarding their broken toys although I can appreciate it as a cold reality that we often choose to ignore.

Remember where you came from

After watching Ottawa almost hand a rival team another upset and send another Canadian fanbase into an online tailspin, I feel compelled as ever to emphasize enjoying these moments and more than that to remember this feeling right now. If we let this feeling get away then we risk ending up just like all the other entitled fans who make incredulous faces when they lose to the Ottawa Senators because certainly their team can’t sink to such unfathomable depths. And we can’t act like it hasn’t happened here before. I have vivid memories of Senators car-flags strewn along highways on early summer days after yet another first-round loss back in the 2000s. We have waited a long time to emerge from mediocrity and endured a glacial process to get back where we need to go in order to hold our heads high as a fanbase. I implore you, when the time comes, remember how it felt when all you could look forward to was the draft lottery. If this team makes the playoffs again and it doesn’t go our way, don’t get mad online. We didn’t endure four lottery seasons just to act miserable when the Sens eventually get decent again. We’re better than those other fans. Every team will have heart-breaking playoff moments. Compared to the process we’ve endured, however, that seems like a dream. Ottawa still has a way to go and nothing comes with guarantees. Who knows when we’ll have playoff hockey at the CTC again? When it happens, we can’t take it for granted.