Probably the most impressive thing about the Ottawa Senators’ ongoing four-game winning streak is that in each of those games (save for two minutes against the Anaheim Ducks), they’ve been without star centres Josh Norris and Tim Stützle.
This isn’t to say that their absence hasn’t had a significant effect on the team’s play, particularly at 5-on-5. Despite a 6-1-1 record in the month of December, they’ve been outscored 14-9 at 5-on-5 in that span, with an expected goals share of 49.81%, according to NaturalStatTrick. The key to their success has been their red-hot power-play, with 15 goals this month.
Doing his level best to keep the special teams as hot as possible is Claude Giroux. The off-season’s highly coveted free agent has proven to still be close to the player he once was, with 28 points in 30 games so far this season. He’s been so good, in fact, that the door might be open for him to act as a stop-gap at centre. The question of whether he’s playing the correct position has nothing to do with his strong play, but rather, the holes created on the roster from the injuries.
Although Stützle’s injury is only short-term, Norris is projected to be out for quite a bit longer despite seemingly progressing ahead of schedule. If the Sens want to maximize the capability of their forward lineup, should they consider moving Giroux to centre?
There are obvious pros and cons to doing this. Firstly, a centre lineup of Stützle, Giroux, and Shane Pinto looks a lot better than what they’ve been working with for most of the season — i.e. with Derick Brassard consistently playing in the top nine, when he’s realistically a fourth-line player in this stage of his career.
The issue of having three lines with a strong presence down the middle, in Ottawa’s case, would be reduced depth on the wings. With Giroux at the centre, that leaves Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Alex DeBrincat as your top tier wingers, with a glaring hole on the first or second line. That said, looking through the younger players in the organization, they seem better suited to fill depth on the wings, as opposed to the centre, especially since prospects have an easier time transitioning to the NHL on the wing.
An opportunity could open up for a prospect such as Ridly Greig or Egor Sokolov, but the production we’ve seen from them in Belleville would imply they might not quite be ready to contribute in that capacity as of yet.
Another option to move into the top six is Mathieu Joseph. While he’s currently out with a lower-body injury, he was very noticeable last season on a line with Norris and Tkachuk, scoring 12 points in 11 games. He hasn’t had much of a similar opportunity this season, spending a lot of time with Brassard and Tyler Motte.
Furthermore, if General Manager Pierre Dorion feels the need to make an addition via trade, a winger would make more sense as they’ve been in need of an upgrade for a while. Motte’s been a strong fourth-liner throughout his career, and he hasn’t really increased his production all that much in his increased role, so pushing him down to the fourth line could make sense once everyone is healthy.
It’s worth mentioning that Ottawa’s second line of Pinto, DeBrincat and Batherson has been playing some solid hockey of late. Despite some unimpressive numbers offensively, the trio has actually done a fantastic job of limiting their opponent’s chances. And the Motte-Brassard-Joseph line has actually had strong 5-on-5 results as well, so there’s an argument to be made that the Senators shouldn’t fix what’s not broken. Maybe it’s a case of holding on until the reinforcements arrive and hoping nothing breaks.
5v5 Lines via HockeyViz
All that said, do you think the Senators should give Claude Giroux a few games at centre with the long-term injury of Josh Norris? Be sure to let us know in the comments!