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Five Thoughts For Friday

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Murray’s turnaround, Chabot’s struggles, and more!

NHL: APR 19 Senators at Flames Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s Friday. Here are some thoughts. Five of them.

The Future at Centre

A few weeks ago, if you had asked me who I expected to be the Sens’ first and second line centres going forward, it would not have been much of a question. I’ve been on board the “Tim Stutzle at centre” train for a long time, and the more I watch Josh Norris, the more convinced I become that he’s the ideal 2C.

I’m not going to sit here and say that Shane Pinto has changed my opinion on this subject in only two games with the big club, but I’m not the first person to say that he looks like he belongs in the NHL. He has offensive skill, but perhaps most importantly, he’s also really good at defense. DJ Smith even trusts him on the penalty kill and to defend a lead at the end of a game, and he’s done really well in the role.

I strongly suspect that Pinto will spend a bit of time in Belleville before joining the team full-time. Still, it is interesting to think about what role he’s going to play on the team, considering that, so far, it looks like he does a lot of the same things Josh Norris does. They’re both really strong defensive players with high offensive upside. You can never have enough of those types of players,

Stützle, on the other hand, has only played wing so far, and it’s still unclear if and when DJ Smith intends to move him to centre. He’s also been a bit inconsistent: he’s shown flashes of amazing offensive upside, then been mostly invisible for long stretches of time. His defensive play could also use a bit of work, and his advanced stats are nothing to write home about. I don’t think this is anything worth being concerned about at this stage in his career, but it does suggest that he’s not yet ready to take over that first line centre position.

But then again, I personally think that Stützle’s style of play is really well suited to the centre position. I’m only going off the eye test here, but I’ve been really impressed with his playmaking ability and his strength with the puck. I think his future is at centre. Plus, I know it’s hard to predict which line combinations will work, but I love the idea of him playing with Batherson, who’s turning into an elite sniper, and Tkachuk, who’s so good at getting to the net. It just seems like a perfect combination for a first line.

Anyways, I know it’s too early to be speculating about this, but it’s fun to think about where all these guys will slot into the lineup going forward.

Matt Murray is... Good?

That may sound a bit harsh but, really, a lot of sens fans were pretty much done with Matt Murray by the time he went down with an injury. When Daccord and Forberg both arguably outplayed Murray in their short time with the team, it kind of looked like there wasn’t a place for Murray on the team anymore.

And yet, he’s looked fantastic since his return, recording the Sens’ first shutout of the season against the Habs, and their second last night against the Canucks.

Is this thanks to the new goalie coach? Is he just an inconsistent player? Is he getting more help from his defensemen? After all, let’s not forget that Högberg looked just as bad at the beginning of the season, and the Sens have definitely improved on defense since then. If both your goalies are having the same problems, it’s probably either an issue with the team, or with the coaching. Whatever changed, I’m happy to have competent goaltending again.

The Defense

Hey, can you guess who currently leads the entire NHL in giveaways?

Look. I know there’s been a lot of hand-wringing about Thomas Chabot lately, but I do think that, as we look toward the future with this franchise, it’s interesting to think about what Chabot can reasonably be expected to do.

It seems pretty clear that the problem right now is that he’s being overworked. This situation reminds me a lot of what we saw with Erik Karlsson throughout so much of his time here. Karlsson was almost never given solid defensive partners, was logging ridiculous minutes, and was frequently played through injuries. Even Karlsson struggled in this situation, and Chabot is not Karlsson. It’s really upsetting to see those exact same mistakes being repeated with another skilled offensive defenseman.

So, should we be worried about the future?

I think there’s more hope now than there was during the Karlsson era. Having Chabot, Brannstrom and Mete down the left side is a massive improvement over the lineup we saw at the beginning of this season. The right side is a little shakier, but not terrible - Zub definitely looks like a top-4 defenseman right now. I also have high hopes for JBD, but he can’t be expected to contribute immediately. Sanderson is a left shot, so if either Brannstrom or Mete don’t pan out, he can slot in there, but he probably won’t be coming in just yet. Brannstrom also likes to play on his off side, so that’s always a possibility. The theme I’m seeing here is that there’s a lot of potential, but we don’t know for sure how everyone is going to pan out, or how long it will take them to develop.

I’d honestly really like to see Chabot’s ice time reduced for the rest of this season, since the games are meaningless and I’d like to see more of the prospects. I strongly suspect that Chabot will start playing a lot better once his workload is reduced. Let’s hope that happens soon!

Tanking?

As we near the end of the season and it starts to become clear which teams are making the playoffs and which aren’t, a lot of sens fans have started paying close attention to the standings… and not the playoff race.

The Sens currently sit at 28th in the league, only 3 points ahead of 29th-placed Anaheim, 4 points ahead of New Jersey, and 7 points ahead of Buffalo. They’re almost guaranteed a great draft position, but there’s still room for the standings to change. Also, get this: if the Canucks win every single one of their four games in hand over Montreal, they will be almost even with the Habs for the last playoff spot in the North. It’s a huge long shot, but if the Sens were to… say… help Vancouver along on this quest… by losing the next three games and winning the one after that... well, that would be pretty sicko of them, wouldn’t it?

There’s a lot of incentive to tank right now, and I can’t say I’d be super upset if the Sens did go on a losing streak, but I also don’t like losing. Especially at 2am. I want the kids to get a good introduction to the NHL, and I want my favourite players to score goals. I’m also not too worried about the draft order, since there are already great prospects in the organization. Put me down as a member of team… indifferent?

The Women’s Worlds

On Wednesday night, the IIHF announced, quite suddenly, that the 2021 Women’s World Championship had been cancelled, just 15 days before its projected start. This happened because the government of Nova Scotia had just announced new travel restrictions, and determined that it was no longer safe to go ahead with the tournament, even though Dr. Strang had stated that it was safe just one day previously.

Alright. Slightly unpopular opinion incoming.

As both an avid fan of women’s hockey and a resident of Halifax, I was obviously very disappointed with this decision. I also understand that it’s frustrating to see the tournament cancelled so suddenly, when it had already been pushed back so many times and the covid safety protocols were pretty intense. I have a lot of sympathy for the players, who were given no warning and don’t know what the plan is going forward. However, this is very much in line with how Nova Scotia has been handling the pandemic up until this point.

Sudden, harsh lockdowns as soon as there’s community spread is how we’ve managed to keep things under control. Lockdown restrictions often change with very little warning, and people are often forced to change their plans with very little notice because of these changes. We’re constantly swinging from one extreme to the other - a few weeks where most people feel safe going out to restaurants, meeting up with friends, etc., followed by a few weeks of staying inside. Yes, the IIHF was being exceptionally careful, and yes, other cities have managed to host tournaments in similar conditions without seeing a spike in cases. However, the reason Nova Scotia’s cases are so low is because Nova Scotia has not been doing things the same way other provinces have. The new restrictions announced this week also state that people cannot enter the province for funerals, even if they get tested and self-isolate; I think there would have been a lot of public outcry if an exception had been made for a sporting event. Would the province have made an exception for men’s sports? Honestly, I don’t think so.

I really do think the tournament could have been run safely, and I would have been thrilled to have it happen in Halifax, but this is just what the IIHF signed up for when they decided to host the tournament here. I think it’s fair to blame the IIHF for not having a backup plan, for continuing to try to make it happen in Halifax despite our constantly-changing lockdown situation, and for not trying hard enough to relocate the tournament. Frankly, I was really confused when the IIHF announced that they were trying to have fans in attendance. You can’t plan things in advance in this province during this pandemic. I think it’s also fair to be frustrated that women’s sports keep getting cancelled when men’s sports are allowed to continue even when it obviously isn’t safe. But don’t get mad at the government of Nova Scotia for continuing to do what has kept this province safe throughout the pandemic.