As is customary on Fridays, here are five stray thoughts I had this week about the Ottawa Senators:
Thomas Chabot: Ironman (or Iron Man?)
Following up his extraordinary 37:50 of ice-time in Tuesday night’s overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chabot logged another 33:49 in Thursday night’s affair against the Nashville Predators. The Sens are in a particularly precarious position with Dylan DeMelo, Nikita Zaitsev, and Christian Wolanin all injured at the same time. Without much depth on the blueline to begin with, Chabot’s been forced to carry an extremely heavy load.
Hailey Salvian had a good feature on Chabot’s herculean efforts Thursday at the Athletic.
My only fear with him playing that many minutes is that it forces Chabot to moderate his style to conserve energy. A key passage from Salvian’s piece:
When asked about how he adjusted his game Tuesday, Chabot said he started “gliding a little more” instead of joining the rush. He said he also tried to simplify his game to conserve energy knowing that he would be sent back over the boards shortly after returning to the bench.
“You can’t just jump in every rush and try to make a difference that way, I think you just kind of try to make the simple play, get the puck out of your zone,” he explained. “The time when you get mostly exhausted is when you get stuck in your own zone, so I think you just try to keep it simple, get the puck out and if you get a chance to go, you go, but I don’t think you really want to force it.”
As playing in the NHL becomes even more demanding physically, it’s going to get harder and harder for players to log the type of heavy minutes we historically associate with workhorse defensemen without seriously compromising their effectiveness. The calculation is that a diminished Chabot playing huge minutes will help the team more than Cody Goloubef or Andreas Englund playing even 15 minutes. I can’t say I think DJ Smith is wrong about what’s more likely to help the team win, but this might be the one time that I’d actually prefer that he played the kids less. It’s a (relatively) meaningless game in December — let’s try to keep Chabot under 30 minutes eh?
I also have to admit that any time I read or hear the word “Ironman” my mind turns to the Black Sabbath song, and in particular this totally wacky music video:
Folks were just doing an unfathomable amount of acid in the 70’s.
Erik Brannstrom, seizing the opportunity
Speaking of the lack of depth on the Sens’ blueline, Brannstrom played a career-high 21:48 on Thursday night against Nashville and had one of the best shifts of his nascent NHL career in overtime to draw the penalty that gave Ottawa the man advantage it needed to win the game. To my eye, Brannstrom is still figuring exactly how to utilize his offensive talents to his maximum advantage but even before the overtime period there were a couple of flashes of his potential where he carried the puck out of trouble, or made a particularly nice pass to jump-start a counter-attack. It’s been written about on this site before, but his underlying metrics are pretty respectable considering his age and I’m not as worried as some about his occasional defensive lapses.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll at the very least be a competent NHL defenseman for a good, long while. Whether he becomes an impact player will depend on him learning to spearhead the offense by evading forecheckers with his skating and making incisive passes that lead to scoring chances. Figuring that stuff out will result in some mistakes and gaffes in the short term but with so many regulars out of the picture, now is as good a time as any to see what Brannstrom can really do.
Anthony Duclair, Power-play Trigger Man
Duclair’s break-out scoring season has been this year’s best story, in my opinion, and his emergence as the team’s biggest threat on the power-play has been a real treat. The knock on Duclair has always been that he’s a bit one-dimensional: if you can contain him off the rush, he isn’t likely to add much of value. This year, he’s found the back of the net in a variety of ways including making the most of a hard, accurate one-timer. His last two overtime game winners were virtually identical, but I first took notice of his cannon on this drive past Henrik Lundqvist in their November 22nd game:
The Sens’ power-play as a whole has looked a lot better in recent weeks, and I would suggest a large part of that is the budding chemistry between Chabot and Duclair. Chabot is a truly top notch distributo,r and Duclair’s looking like the shooter the man advantage has been missing since Mike Hoffman’s departure.
Mark Borowiecki, scoring machine?
With an assist against Nashville on Thursday, Borowiecki surpassed his previous career high for points in a season with 12. Some of that is a bit of puck luck and some friendly score-keeping, for instance I’m not totally sure he ever touched the puck on White’s goal last night despite getting a secondary assist, but there’s also a visible improvement in the way that he’s handling the puck and his concerted efforts to jump into the rush when the opportunity presents itself. When Borowiecki first arrived in Ottawa, his puck skills were unrefined and the team’s offense basically died whenever he was on the ice. But for whatever you want to say about his game, Borowiecki has long demonstrated that he’s a tremendously hard worker and in recent years he’s clearly made an effort to improve the offensive side. It used to be that a puck on Boro’s stick was off it and around the boards just as fast. Now, he clearly takes the time to size up the situation and has shown the ability to find better plays. It’s a welcome change, and an impressive development for a player who at 30 should be heading towards their decline — not vastly improving their skill-set.
And last, but certainly not least, with Kyle Turris’ return to Ottawa Thursday night we were given another reminder of the type of person the former Senator is off the ice:
Some special guests joined our friends the Capital City Condors after tonight’s game 🙌 pic.twitter.com/ZyGp1JPLXE— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) December 20, 2019
Kyle’s work with the Capital City Condors has had a profound impact on so many lives, and I hope that this more than anything will be what Sens fans remember him for.