Some scattered thoughts for this Friday after a 7-3 loss in Calgary:
This is a buzzword that has been talked about since DJ Smith came in. They have been preaching for players to earn their ice-time and to be accountable for how they play. If you aren’t playing well enough or hard enough, you won’t play—it’s as simple as that. And in theory, it creates a lot of competition, which is great for a club that has a ton of young talent but not enough spots for everyone long-term. So I have no issue with holding players accountable.
However, I don’t buy it when being held accountable only applies to certain players.
Erik Brannstrom and Christian Wolanin will get scratched for making a few poor defensive plays, yet Erik Gudbranson has played every single game despite making even more egregious errors. I get that he’s a leader on this team, but so was Mark Borowiecki and he didn’t play every single game. Am I supposed to believe that if Brännström or Wolanin did this exact same thing (while failing to ice the puck right before), they wouldn’t be scratched?
Unbelievable.— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) March 3, 2021
The failed icing lead to this entire sequence.
Gudbranson should be scratched next game. If accountability is truly in play, show it. pic.twitter.com/PrglEBpBxh
I don’t want to make Gudbranson a scapegoat or anything because he’s just one player, and I’m certainly not going to question his work ethic. This comes down to DJ, as he clearly has an infatuation with Gudbranson where he’s unable or unwilling to see his flaws. Other veterans such as Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn, Derek Stepan, and Artem Anisimov have all benefitted to varying degrees as well, although Gudbranson is the only one who has played every game.
Yes, Ottawa is thin on the right side, but Reilly, Wolanin, and Brännström all have experience on the right side, and even if Smith scratched him for just one game, it’d send a strong message to the team. I’m totally fine with holding players accountable and making sure everyone is working for their spot, but that can’t just apply to young players.
Wolanin Needs a Chance
Related to the last accountability point, it seems as if DJ doesn’t think Wolanin is worthy of a spot on the team right now. He has only played 9 games this season, and he hasn't suited up since February 18th against the Maple Leafs. Has he looked amazing? No, he has just one assist and ranks 5th amongst Senators defense in xGF% at 48.08%, plus the most glaring stat is his -8. A lot of that can be attributed to an extremely low 5.36% on-ice SH% and an 84.48% on-ice SV%—that is just incredibly bad luck.
So I’d certainly like him to be better, but it’s been 9 games and I think he can show a lot more. Also, this is a guy who played just 12 games last season between the AHL and NHL after a serious injury and then he went another 10 months without a game, so...how about we just give him a chance to get back in the rhythm of things? Ottawa is always hesitant of playing too many “offensive-minded” defensemen such as Chabot, Brännström, Reilly, and Wolanin, but I don’t think the team will cease to exist if they try it out.
Besides Dylan DeMelo, Wolanin was easily the Senators best defenseman behind Thomas Chabot during his 43 games from 2018-20, and I just find it hard to believe that he’s a lost cause now. Maybe his injury has really affected him and he’ll never be the same, so who knows. But I just don’t see the point in not letting him play to see if they have anything there. Because let’s be honest, we don’t need to see any more of Braydon Coburn out there.
Wolanin might not be destined to stay a Senator for long due to Jake Sanderson coming here as well, but too many good players has never been a bad thing.
What to do with the Goalies?
Matt Murray had another bad game last night as his SV% dropped to .883%. He has had some good games especially since the first few weeks, but he still hasn’t been good enough considering what Ottawa needs him to be. I’d prefer for Smith to lighten his workload so that he doesn’t have to play like a regular starter for a bit. He needs a reset.
The Senators obviously don’t have an obvious answer behind him, but I’d like to see what Joey Daccord can do for a small stretch of games here. He allowed 3 goals on 18 shots last night so he wasn’t great either, but he stopped 30/32 shots on Tuesday, so why not play him for a few games to see if he can get hot? The frustrating part with Murray is that he’s been unable to string together multiple good games in a row—every time he plays well, there’s an almost immediate setback.
It’s disappointing that Ottawa’s long-term answer in net is less settled than before, but that can change quickly. I don’t have an easy answer as to how Murray can play better or if Daccord is good enough, but something needs to change.
Sam Bennett: Future Senator?
Sam Bennett has been in trade talks for a while now, and it seems inevitable that the Flames will move him. He was scratched last night against Ottawa, which just added to the trade speculation. He seems like a typical Senators player in that people talk a lot about his character and his gritty ability in the bottom-6. He’s a weird player because he looked like a future star in the OHL but ever since his 36-point rookie season, he’s never had more than 27 points...
So he’s definitely an overrated name, but he can bring some value on the 4th line. I don’t think Ottawa needs him, but a few people have mentioned a Logan Brown/Sam Bennett swap, and I could honestly see something like that happening. That is 100% speculation on my part, so that is not a rumour. However, it’d make sense for Ottawa and Calgary since they both seem eager to move Brown and Bennett, respectively. I wouldn’t advocate for this move since Brown has much more upside, but I think Bennett’s availability is something to monitor.
Ending off on a positive note, it’s important to keep perspective sometimes. We know that there is still a ton of work to do in order to make this team a contender. At the same time, we need to celebrate the small things and also be happy with what this team does have. Last year, Ottawa’s identity was pretty much just Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. This year, they’ve added Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, and Tim Stützle to that group, plus others such as Colin White and Erik Brännström appear to be on the periphery as well.
It’s great to watch your team dominate every game, but it’s also great when you can tell that your team genuinely likes each other. Just look at this, how can that not make you smile?
Then you also think about how they have Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jake Sanderson, and Tyler Kleven all playing at UND together and as long as two of them make it, that’ll make the team even closer. I feel like the Senators were traumatized by the previous core’s dressing room drama that they made a massive effort to make sure the next core got along well, and I have to say: it’s not the worst plan. At the very least, this is going to be a fun core to root for.