Five Thoughts for Friday: Five Bright Spots

Don't worry, be happy!

Five Thoughts for Friday: Five Bright Spots
Photo by Jacqueline Munguía / Unsplash

We are in Sports Fandom Hell, friends. The Ottawa Senators, at 25-29-3, are well and truly cooked when it comes to the post-season. Josh Norris has perhaps suffered another major shoulder trauma – though at the time of this writing, it was still a nebulous "upper body" injury. After two dispiriting defeats earlier this week, including a third period performance against the Nashville Predators so bad that it bordered on the comical, there just isn't much to get excited about.

Dramatic Pause

Nevertheless! I do think there have been some legitimate bright spots this season, and they are worth examining:

Jake Sanderson and Artem Zub, Crushers:

When both have been healthy, Jake Sanderson and Artem Zub have been Ottawa's most relied upon, and best, defensive pair. In fact, you could make a case they've been one of the best defensive pairs in the league: their 56 CF%, 57.33 xGF% and 60.42 GF% at 5v5 make it clear that the Sens are carrying play to an impressive degree with the duo on the ice. Both DJ Smith, and now Jacques Martin, have often opted to use the Sanderson-Zub pairing with Tim Stützle's line to go power-on-power against the opponent's top lines – with great success. Zub's mild fragility aside, the massive success of the duo is a great development.

Shane Pinto, not Missing a Beat:

Shane Pinto had a good rookie season last year, but there were times when he didn't quite seem ready to take on the role of top six centre that was thrust onto him. So when he was suspended for the entire first half of this season, it robbed him of some valuable development time. Luckily, Pinto doesn't seem to have missed a beat and is off to scorching hot start to his campaign. With the aforementioned Norris' long-term health once more in serious doubt, the importance of Pinto stepping into the top half of the line-up has only increased. I'm not convinced he'll keep scoring at this rate, but even if he slows down a bit it's not hard to envision 50ish points in a season in a prominent role. So far, he's looked the part.

Brady Tkachuk, Goal-Scoring Machine:

The Tkaptain's scoring at a near 40 goal pace this year, and, if he stays healthy, there's no reason he won't be able to set a career high in goals. All that despite no big jump in his shooting percentage, or an increase in power play goals. Brady's been doing it the hard way: mostly at 5v5, and by creating a metric tonne of chances. Tkachuk will be 25 in September, so we are likely past the point of his taking a big step forward, but he's been slowly inching upwards every year and his full realization as the goal-scoring power forward of our dreams has been a joy.

Claude Giroux, Still Really Good:

After nearly two seasons, I'd say it is now inarguable that Claude Giroux is the greatest free-agent signing in Sens history. At the time of his joining the team, folks were excited with a twinge of reservation due to his age. So far, I think it's fair to say that the Hearst, Ontario native has blown through even the rosiest predictions. When I watch Giroux, I think it's pretty inarguable that he's lost a step but, and this is a cliché, he virtually always makes the right play. I also cannot help but respect the maximum effort that he gives on every shift. NHL players are professional athletes so they are all trying very hard, but even in that context Giroux stands out. Stützle is the team's best forward, but Giroux is probably its most dependable.

Better Vibes, Better Attendance:

This one might be a stretching things a bit, especially since we've long argued on this site that fan attendance at games is far from the best indicator of fan passion, but it is nonetheless comforting to see large crowds at home games this season. Ottawa's average attendance of 17,398 is still down a couple thousand as compared to the golden days, but it's a big step up from the anemic 10,145 averaged in 2021-2022. There has never been any doubt in my mind that folks would fill the arena once the team was worth supporting (and ownership changed!) – it's been nice to see that feeling validated, even if this year has been more of a disappointment in terms of on-ice performance.

So I'll turn it over to the readers: are there some bright spots this season that I missed?

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