After a tough week, Ottawa Senators need to give young players a chance

Last week was a tough one for the Ottawa Senators, losing all three games versus Winnipeg.

They led 3-2 until the last minutes of the game on Tuesday, before allowing an equalizer with 1:17 left, and then losing in overtime.

The Senators outshot the Jets 41-28, they deserved to win.

“We made a lot of young mistakes racing around trying to score rather than defending,” said Head Coach D.J. Smith to the media. “That’s a learning lesson tonight.”

The “young mistakes” comments were met with disagreement from many Sens fans.

Drake Batherson (22), Josh Norris (21), and Brady Tkachuk (20) were the youngest players on the ice for the Senators, and they combined for 20 shots playing as Ottawa’s top line.

After a convincing 4-1 Winnipeg win on Thursday night, the Senators found themselves in another close game on Saturday.

Going into the third up 3-2 with the shots 17-16 in their favour, they collapsed.

Winnipeg scored four unanswered goals, outshooting Ottawa 20-4 in the period, on the way to a 6-3 win.

A pivotal moment came with five minutes left and the game tied. After killing off a potent Jets powerplay and gaining some momentum, Senators veteran Derek Stepan flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.

Winnipeg scored on the ensuing power play to take the lead.

"I'm a veteran guy brought in here to be a leader, I can't take a penalty like that,” he said to the media after the game. “That lands on me, I feel like I let the group down."

Young mistakes? Perhaps. That doesn’t mean young players are making them.

Let’s face it, the Senators are going to have a tough season. They’ll likely finish last because the Canadian Division is very strong. But it should be more exciting than years past, they’re turning the corner on the lowest point in franchise history thanks to an abundance of youth talent in the system.

So why aren’t players like Erik Brannstrom (21), Logan Brown (22), and Filip Chlapik (23) given a chance to play? They’ve all proven they can play in the minors, now’s the time to give them a chance to develop in the big leagues even if there are growing pains.

It’s not like the team is winning with vets in their place anyway. Artem Anisimov (32) was on the ice for the Jets overtime goal on Tuesday and was too slow to cover Nikolaj Ehlers who scored the winner. He also made crucial giveaways in the last five minutes on Thursday night. I expect someone else to get a shot tonight.

Some positives from last week:

  • Nick Paul had another great week and hasn’t had a bad game yet this season. He looks like a young Mark Stone; forechecking hard, cutting off passing lanes, and always making the right play with the puck on his stick. It’s great to see from a guy who was kept in the minors for so long. He had a goal and an assist on Saturday.
  • Ottawa’s top line of Batherson, Norris, and Tkachuk had great moments. This is one area where D.J. Smith seems to be trusting his youth, they’ve been on the top line and powerplay unit every game so far. Norris scored his first career NHL goal on Tuesday.
  • Alex Galchenyuk played his first game on Tuesday and he looked great, could be a real threat on the power play. He was scratched for Saturday’s game after having a mediocre game on Thursday, though.
  • Nikita Zaitsev is off to a good start with five assists and a plusfive rating through five games. Zaitsev is typically pointed out as a bad defenceman, if he can continue this good form that’s great news for Ottawa (he’s signed for four years at $4.5M per).

Elsewhere around the league:

  • Disgruntled stars Patrik Laine and PierreLuc Dubois were traded for each other on Saturday. Laine wanted out of Winnipeg for quite some time now, whereas reports of Dubois wanting out of Columbus only came this off-season. Ottawa was reportedly among the teams vying for Dubois’ services, but couldn’t give up a player of Laine’s calibre.
  • The Montreal Canadiens sit atop the Canadian Division with ten points and have yet to lose in regulation. The team looks like a real contender to start the season. Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson are proving to be great offseason additions.
  • Longtime Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong died on Sunday at age 90. A four-time Stanley Cup champion, the “Chief” was one of the first players of Indigenous descent to play professionally.

Looking ahead:

Monday, January 25 at Vancouver (10 pm)

Wednesday, January 27 at Vancouver (8 pm)

Thursday, January 28 at Vancouver (10 pm)

Sunday, January 31 at Edmonton (9 pm)

The Senators continue on their first road trip of the season, with three games in Vancouver and one in Edmonton this week. Vancouver is coming off two straight losses to Montreal, and much like Ottawa has struggled to start the season. Both teams will desperately be looking for a win, Ottawa needs to come away with some points if they still plan to be competitive in this division.

  • Tim Stützle missed all three games versus Winnipeg with a lingering injury from the World Juniors. He was seen holding his left hand at practice, and the team is calling it a minor injury. You might see him back in the lineup any game now.
  • The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch appeared on TSN Thursday night and said the Senators may bring up Brannstrom from the minors in favour of Braydon Coburn or Mike Reilly.