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Big additions bring big expectations for Ottawa Senators

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Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, left, goalie Anton Forsberg and forward Claude Giroux celebrate a win against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre Oct. 4, 2022. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

The Ottawa Senators have been perennial basement dwellers for five years running, but the team finally seems poised to make significant progress.

The past few difficult years have been spent building a young core that started with workhorse defenceman Thomas Chabot and went on to include captain Brady Tkachuk and forwards Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Tim Stützle.

With the additions of veteran Claude Giroux, high-scoring winger Alex DeBrincat and goaltender Cam Talbot, the Senators might finally be able to make headway in the Eastern Conference, although they’ll be facing tough competition in the always competitive Atlantic Division.

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Ottawa will need to shed some bad habits if they want to keep pace with the likes of Tampa, Toronto and Florida.

For the past three seasons, which coincides with how long head coach D.J. Smith has been behind the bench, the Senators have struggled to get off on the right foot and missed the playoffs.

A coach in a hat and track suit with a whistle in his mouth.
Smith leads the team’s training camp in Ottawa Sept. 22, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

In his rookie season in 2019-20, Ottawa was 2-7-1 after ten games. The 2020-21 season, which was comprised of an all-Canadian division, saw them go 1-8-1. Last year, they stumbled out to a 3-6-1 record.

“Clearly we know we’ve got to get out to a good start,” said Smith.

“You’ve got to be in every game. You’ve got to chip away at points right from the get-go, and that’s pro sports. We’re big boys and we’ve got to be ready when the season starts.”

Cutting down on goals against

While the Senators will likely be able to score a few more goals thanks to DeBrincat, Giroux and the supporting cast of forwards, the bigger question is whether or not Ottawa’s defence and goaltending will have sufficiently improved.

A hockey player skates under a spotlight after a game.
Alex DeBrincat is named the first star of the game after scoring the winning goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the pre-season. He tied a career high with 41 goals last season. (Marc DesRosiers/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

As impressive as general manager Pierre Dorion’s moves were this summer, he failed to acquire a solid, veteran blue-liner.

Ottawa will be led by Chabot and Artem Zub, who have proven to be an effective pairing.

The 27-year-old Russian is in the final year of his contract and set to become an unrestricted free agent. Other than Chabot, Zub has been the Senators’ best defenceman and a solid addition to its blue-line.

Travis Hamonic and Nick Holden will be counted on to provide veteran leadership while rookie Jake Sanderson showed significant poise through the pre-season, but has yet to play an NHL game.

Erik Brannstrom, Nikita Zaitsev and Jacob Bernard-Docker will all be pushing for regular duty.

A hockey player in a black and red uniform looks up the ice.
Sanderson, 20, skates with the puck against the Montreal Canadiens Oct. 1, 2022. (Marc DesRosiers/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

Ottawa’s numbers defensively over the past three years are somewhat depressing. The Senators finished 30th in goals against in Smith’s rookie season, improved to 23rd his second year and fell to 26th last year.

Already a significant injury

The tandem of Anton Forsberg and Talbot was intended to help improve those numbers, but Talbot will be sidelined for the first five to seven weeks of the season with a broken rib, leaving the bulk of the work to Forsberg.

The 29-year-old Forsberg proved to be a stable net presence in the second half of last season and was rewarded with a three-year extension. He finished the season with a 22-17-4 record and .917 save percentage.

If Forsberg can hold down the fort for the first 14 games, Ottawa might be able to ride the stretch out in Talbot’s absence. It bodes well that the Senators don’t play any back-to-back games in the first six weeks of the season.

In an effort to shore up their crease in Talbot’s absence the Senators claimed journeyman netminder Magnus Hellberg off waivers from Seattle. The 31-year-old has played in just five NHL games, but has plenty of experience and could provide some relief until Talbot returns.

A skater in blue tries to take a shot against a goalie in yellow.
Hellberg was one of Sweden’s goalies during the 2022 Winter Olympics. He spent much of last season with Sochi in Russia’s KHL. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

What can’t be overlooked is the depth of Ottawa’s bottom six.

The third line trio of Shane Pinto between Tyler Motte and Mathieu Joseph has been nothing short of impressive through the pre-season.

Pinto, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, looks ready to make a statement and is benefiting from Motte’s experience and Joseph’s speed.

“I think a lot of the credit has to go to Pints, you see how well he’s played,” said Smith.

“But also a guy like Motte, who just knows how to play the right way. And then Joe’s got all that speed. So, it is comforting for sure. They’re the line that’s had the most success five-on-five because they’re playing the right way.”

Two hockey players battle for the puck in the middle of the ice. One has fallen and the other looks like he's about to fall.
Motte breaks away from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews before scoring during the third period at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto Sept. 24, 2022. (John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

The fourth line has yet to be finalized but Austin Watson and Parker Kelly will likely find themselves on the wing of either Dylan Gambrell or Mark Kastelic. While Kastelic has been solid, his two-way contract may make the Senators’ decision a little easier.

Former Senator and Gatineau, Que., native Derick Brassard is also back in the picture.

Ottawa’s regular season begins Thursday in Buffalo. After a Saturday night visit to Toronto, their home opener is Tuesday, Oct. 18 against Boston.

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Darnell Nurse sounds off on Edmonton Oilers slow starts after Stuart Skinner faces 50 shots – TSN

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Another slow start for the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t their undoing against the Washington Capitals in Monday’s 3-2 loss, but it certainly didn’t help either.

The Oilers were outshot 22-12 in the opening frame, with Stuart Skinner turning aside all 22 in his eventual 47-save performance in the loss.

“We come in here and we talk about it every day,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said of his team’s starts. “We sit here after the game, talk about it over and over and over. … We want to have good starts each and every night but, you know, we’re sitting here and it’s a part of our game. We’re almost a quarter of the way through the season.

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“The more we just talk away and pester at it, we need to just show up and play. Relax, pin our ears back and come out on the on the attack.”

The Oilers were outshot 50-30 on Monday, including 19-7 in the second period, when Skinner allowed two goals.

“We weren’t as quick and physical as we wanted to be in the defensive zone,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Our goalie stood tall. We’re 2-2 going into the third period. We made a critical error, and it ended up in the back of our net.”

Skinner Unfazed as Oilers Allow 50 Shots

Skinner, who has moved into the starting role ahead of Jack Campbell over the past month, saw his record drop to 7-6 on the season, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.93 goals-against average.

The 50 shots faced against the Capitals were a season high for Skinner, who said the early barrage helped put him the zone. 

“I think if you get a few [early] chances on you and make all the saves, it’s a little bit of a confidence booster,” Skinner said. “They got on the power play and I got a few shots on the power play, so after that I was ready to go.”

The loss dropped the Oilers to 14-12-0 on the season as the team currently sits in the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference. 

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‘We need to be better’: Oilers continue to fight slow starts, costly turnovers – Sportsnet.ca

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Pettersson's revenge: Canucks keep surprising with 'inexplicable' comeback vs. Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca

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