No time for an intro, let’s just get straight to the Thoughts!
Brady Tkachuk: All-Star
Yesterday, it was announced that Brady Tkachuk would represent the Ottawa Senators at the upcoming NHL All-Star game. The team posted a fun little video to their Instagram account of the captain getting the good news:
Tkachuk’s scoring pace has slowed a bit in recent weeks, but he still remains the team’s leading point getter. His penchant for winning puck battles, among his many other skills, has helped make his line with Tim Stützle and Claude Giroux one of the best in the league. If you asked his coach, DJ Smith might tell you that Tkachuk could still use a bit of work on the defensive part of his game but that he’s taken tremendous strides since first coming into the league. The All-Star game is a fun reward for young guys, and Tkachuk deserves the recognition that comes with it.
The title to this section is perhaps a bit provocative considering I just spent a couple of paragraphs extolling Tkachuk’s virtues so I should be clear that this is not intended as a slight towards the captain: Stützle and Tkachuk are both having great seasons, the two clear-cut best players on the team this year to my eyes, and either is a deserving candidate to represent the team. If for some reason I was forced to choose between the two I would personally select Stützle but I have zero qualms with anyone who prefers Tkachuk. They’ve both been quite good.
Let me instead propose that the Sens have a good case for two all-stars — despite dwelling near the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings. Where there is perhaps some room for critiquing Tkachuk’s defensive play, that is simply no longer the case with Stützle. The German centre has been a two-way dynamo all year, and both the traditional and #fancystat metrics paint him as a hugely impactful player in every facet of the game; including on the penalty kill, something that would have been unheard of just last season. The good news for Stützle is that he’s entering his prime and the sky is the limit for a player of his talents. I suspect we will be witness to plenty of All-Star appearances in his future, even if he doesn’t qualify this season.
It’s funny how quickly things can change when it comes to goaltending: not two weeks ago, Cam Talbot’s place as the team’s de facto number one option in net seemed quite secure. But in the Sens’ last game of 2022, Talbot, along with most of the rest of the team if we’re being honest, had a bit of a stinker against the Detroit Red Wings and since then Anton Forsberg has allowed just one goal on fifty-six shots in back-to-back wins against the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets. Forsberg’s recent stellar play has brought his all-situations SV% all the way up to a very respectable .914 — ahead of Talbot’s .911. If you want to get fancy with it, hockeyviz.com’s model has Forsberg ahead in Goals Saved Above Expected as well; a measure that takes into account the difficulty of the shots that each goalie is facing. That’s not to say Forsberg is now having a clearly better season, but rather that the margins between the two are miniscule.
In some ways I don’t envy Smith’s job in this situation because playing time expectations are a lot easier to manage when you have a clear-cut number one goalie. By the same token, it must be comforting to know that if one falters that the other is more than capable of stepping in. The season is long, and halfway through we’ve already been witness to several ups and downs for both. It says here this won’t be the last time that the mantle of “number one” switches hands.
When Every Game Isn’t a Must-Win
One of the things that I most like about Smith’s approach to coaching is his dogged level-headedness. I know that this can be a frustrating character trait for fans, particularly when things aren’t going well, but one of the most important jobs for any coach, in any sport, is to ensure that their team never gets too high or too low. The NHL season is eighty two games long, and every point matters: if you fall back down, you need to be able to get back up again.
This will be especially important as the Sens enter the second of the season because while they are definitely heavy underdogs to make the play-offs, they are far from eliminated. The loss to Detroit last Saturday was frustrating for a number of reasons, not least of which because it came against a divisional rival the Sens need to overtake to qualify for the post-season. At the end of the day, though, it was just two points out of a possible 164. Though it may feel otherwise, not every game is a must-win; if Ottawa actually won out, they’d finish with 127 points, the fifth-most all-time. That would be sufficient to make the play-offs. They can afford to lose a couple games yet.
There are going to be losses along the way, and a loss will not mean the season is over. If the Sens respond to each defeat the way they did after their loss to Detroit, things will turn out just fine.
More Fun Content:
Though it’s just Tkachuk heading to the All-Star game for now, the rest of the Sens’ roster will still get to participate in the Sens Skills’ competition on Sunday. To announce who from Team Tkachuk will be competing against Team Chabot, the Sens recorded an absolutely delightful video:
A little target practice to get ready for Sens Skills! 🎯— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) January 5, 2023
Brady and Chabby go shot-for-shot to choose their teams, who do you think will come out on top?
🎟️: https://t.co/KwYUhZ621M pic.twitter.com/07dneq8Gs4
I don’t really have a thought to share about this, it’s just a wonderful bit of content. The banter is witty and seems genuine; Tkachuk and Chabot look like they have real personal chemistry. I’m not naïve enough to think we can learn the inner truth of player character from these sorts of choreographed pieces, but damn if this isn’t fun and doesn’t make me feel a certain away about cheering for the local heroes. More of that, please!