• By: Dave Gross

Are they listening, Jacques?

It wasn’t an oil painting. Hell, it wasn’t even a decent watercolour effort.

Baby steps though, right?

Ottawa’s won back-to-back games under ‘new’ head coach Jacques Martin, and for at least one night (for most of the night anyway) the team that couldn’t-wouldn’t play collective defence if its life depended on it . . . did.

The Senators win over Toronto Wednesday was a good start to what would have to be an absolutely miraculous run to get a sniff at a playoff spot. I mean, a post-season rung to even be considered at this point would put the legend of the Hamburglar to shame. That’s how big a push and turnaround it would take.

So let’s not dwell on the unlikely.

Baby steps again, right?

As the lads on Sportsnet’s post-game panel pointed out, there were actual sightings (yes, it really happened) of Ottawa forwards backchecking and helping out a sometimes besieged Joonas Korpisalo near and even in the blue paint.

This was not something we’re used to seeing. If it keeps going like this, captain Brady is going to lose that unfortunate nickname of ‘Fly-the-Zone’ Tkachuk.

While Martin has had very, very little time to incorporate any kind of defensive mantra, whatever he’s been spouting to the troops seems to be getting sucked up and somewhat adopted.

Former head coach D.J. Smith was accused – a bit inaccurately  – of letting the young egos on the ice run the team the way they saw fit. In other words, let boys be boys.

Quite obviously that didn’t work too well. Regardless whether you bought into that theory or not, it sure looked like a heaping helping of it’s-not-MY-fault-it’s-HIS night after night.

Jacques’ voice is a new one to these guys and maybe that’s a good thing.

Baby steps.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe had this: “Ottawa got better and harder as the game went on. We didn’t respond to that.” That’s accurate . . . Nice synopsis from my TSN buddy Tony Ambrogio on the Maple Leafs and the entire Eastern Conference. Tony says he wouldn’t be surprised if Toronto ends up actually representing the east in the Cup final. On the other hand, he wouldn’t be surprised and could easily see the Buds miss out on the playoffs completely. It’s that tight and tough to call up and down the east . . . Agreed with Tony on this one too – nobody wants to face Florida anywhere, anytime, in the post-season . . .The Panthers lost Radko Gudas to free agency this past summer, but they still play the same way: mean . . . If you’re looking for some excellent audio, check out Luke Gazdic’s Mitt’s Off podcast. Especially enlightening is Luke’s lengthy interview with Erik Gudbranson shortly after his run-in with Panthers’ rat Nick Cousins . . . My go-to remains 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. An essential twice weekly listen . . . Wondering about Arber Xhekaj in Montreal? The Sherriff is still in the AHL at Laval working on his defensive game. He’s been in residence since Dec. 4th . . . Rocket head coach Jean-Francois Houle has paired the big lad with another in former first-rounder Logan Mailloux. “The first few games, I’m not going to lie, it was a little shaky and they had a lot of turnovers, but right now they are stabilizing a lot of things, they move the puck well, they’re winning battles and it’s hard to get in front of the net,” Houle told The Hockey News . . . Those still harping on the Habs being a ‘smallish’ team can stop harping when Mailloux and Xhekaj make the jump upwards, which should be soon . . . Montreal’s glut on defence will force some sort of movement shortly. Could it be veteran shot-blocker David Savard on the way out? The 33 year old’s contract is doable for most in challenge-for-the-Cup mode . . . Ottawa’s new year celebrations likely will be brief and likely Champagne-free. The team has Buffalo here on Sunday night then will spend Jan. 1st enroute to Vancouver for a Tuesday night encounter – 10 pm our time . . . The Senators get a first peek at former mate Connor Brown during the same road swing on Dec. 6th in Edmonton. The industrious forward hasn’t been the hit he was expected to be with the Oilers – zero goals in 24 games. Brown had 21 goals for Ottawa in just 56 games in 2021 . . . Ottawa has 15 games in January, but before some of you start moaning about it, only one set is of the back-to-back variety.



Friday, Dec. 29: New Jersey at Ottawa (7 pm)

Sunday, Dec. 31: Buffalo at Ottawa (6 pm)

Tuesday, Jan. 2: Ottawa at Vancouver (10 pm)


Photo: CourtesyTHN.com