Today’s Five Thoughts was delayed for some unfortunately obvious reasons. Hope you still enjoy!
The Joseph Situation
As everyone reading this site will likely know, Mathieu Joseph was made a healthy scratch for Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This was notable for two reasons: 1) Joseph is clearly one of the team’s twelve best forwards, and 2) the match-up would have been the first time Joseph was to face-off against his brother Pierre-Olivier in the NHL. According to several reports, the Josephs were expecting upwards of 50 family and friends in the stands. So one can imagine the confusion when coach DJ Smith announced, emphatically, that Joseph was being made a healthy scratch and that the coach would not elaborate further.
When the team held an optional practice yesterday, Joseph spoke to the media and attempted to clear up the situation:
“I’m just going to talk about this once. This was an internal thing. Obviously, I did a mistake and I was ready to assume the consequences of it,” Joseph explained. “This is on me and it’s my responsibility. I know I can do better and I will.”
This explanation was helpful and unhelpful at the same time: we have a general idea of what happened, but no specifics. Maybe some enterprising reporter will figure out what team rule Joseph broke, but maybe not. The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any lasting resentment between player and coach. There’s always a danger that this type of conflict can linger and fester. For whatever else you want to say about Smith, he has the reputation of caring for his players and it would appear, from the outside at least, that he’s navigated what could have been a messy situation. The Sens need Joseph at this best, so it’s good to see both parties seemingly moving past the problem.
Shane Pinto: Third Line Hero
At the start of the season, I said that the Sens were banking on a lot from two young players in particular: Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson. The Sens’ roster, when healthy, is constructed such that it works if those two are the best versions of themselves. This was always a bit of a risky proposition, counting on rookies to play starring roles can lead to peril, but Sanderson has been more than up to the task. Sanderson came into the league with an almost impossible level of hype, and he’s somehow lived up to almost all of it. He is easily one of the best stories of the season.
Now, Pinto hasn’t exactly been bad but when Josh Norris went down he was asked to be a second line centre and he was not quite up to the task. This isn’t a slight on Pinto, because stepping into a major role like that is not easy for a rookie. But now with Norris returning, Pinto has the opportunity to help where it’s desperately needed in the bottom six. Frankly, his style of game seems more suited to this type of role anyhow: trying to create offensively will likely always be a weak point for Pinto, and he doesn’t quite have the skill to roll with the top dogs. But his shot remains elite, and if all he’s being asked to do is feast on turnovers then I think he’s up to the task. If the Sens want to turn around their moribund 5v5 play, this would be a great place to start.
Some Rare (Bad) Company
Speaking of which, one of the unfortunate emerging storylines of this season has been the Sens’ inability to win the battle at 5v5. As a team, the Sens are a jarring -31 (67 goals for, 98 against); only the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago, and Anaheim Ducks are worse — the true dregs of the league. And while there are some culprits that are worse than others (Drake Batherson and Travis Hamonic’s -17 differential make them 615th and 616th out of 633 players with at least 200 minutes at 5v5), this is a team-wide problem.
The good news is that the Sens’ special teams have been so spectacular that the team is nearly .500 in spite of getting annihilated at 5v5. This is extremely rare! If you are a glass half-full type of fan, there’s a decent reason to believe that things will come around at 5v5. Teams that have the talent to produce an elite power play and penalty kill almost never get swamped like this at even strength.
If you are a glass half-empty type of fan, then maybe you see the team’s special teams play as artificially propping up what is actually a very bad team. I think this is the less likely of the team explanations, but good teams also don’t get worked like this at even strength all year. Either way, it seems to me that something’s got to give and I’m gonna hang my hat on the idea that all the bad shooting luck is going to turn around.
A Shallower Prospect Pool
Earlier this week Scott Wheeler unveiled the Sens at #24 in his annual prospect pool rankings. On the one hand, the ranking is to be expected: the aforementioned Sanderson graduated out of the “prospect” label, and the team has firmly exited the rebuild. Most of the young talent that the Sens accumulated over the last six years is now in the NHL. On the other hand, it’s a reminder that, barring an unexpected development, the top half of the team is set for the foreseeable future. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though: one of the most pressing issues facing the current roster is a lack of talent in the bottom six of the roster. If Ridly Greig, who Wheeler lists as the Sens’ top prospect, makes a leap then some of the scoring woes could go away.
I am not the one making these types of decisions, but if someone from the Sens’ management group happens to be reading this I would simply say: stocking the third and fourth lines almost exclusively with players whose biggest contribution is physicality and defensive acumen has led us to this point. It wouldn’t hurt to re-think where some more offensively talented youngsters might fit in to help fill the gap. Luckily, the prospect pool is set up to do exactly that.
The Future of the Site
Although this section wasn’t part of my original plan for today’s piece, I couldn’t in good faith have Five Thoughts without mentioning the uncertainty surrounding our site’s future. When I know more about what’s coming next I will share that with you all but today I wanted to say thank you to the current staff who make my job so easy, and to everyone that’s written for the site in the past. I’ve been contributing to this site for almost nine years (holy cow) and I’ve been the Managing Editor for 3.5 years. I’m tremendously proud of what we’ve accomplished, and in particular of the community that we have here. It’s been a big part of my life for a long time.
I want the site to continue in some capacity. I have no idea what that might mean, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel. So, stay tuned. Hopefully this isn’t the End.