NHL season ends on a high note with win over Toronto

Ottawa Senators completed the NHL season with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was Josh Norris who scored the winning goal just nine seconds into overtime, his 17th of the season.

Connor Brown, who scored the second goal for the Senators, struck an optimistic note as he looked forward to the 2021/22 season, saying: “I think us, the City of Ottawa, have a lot to look forward to next year”.

Just as it looked as if the first period would end scoreless, Nikita Zaitsev fired in with one minute remaining – his shot from the top of the right circle going in via the post.

Jake Muzzin took advantage of a power play to equalize for the Maple Leafs, but the Senators were soon 3-1 ahead, despite the NHL game odds. First Brown netted on the rebound to take his season goals total to 21 – his best ever season in front of goal. Then there was an unforgettable debut goal from 21-year-old Parker Kelly, who finished from close range after an initial Erik Brannstrom effort came back off the backboard. Kelly had to wait for a video review before he could celebrate though, with Maple Leafs’ goaltender Frederik Andersen almost managing to claw back the puck before it crossed the line.

Toronto came storming back though, initially through John Tavares, set up by William Nylander’s pass from behind the net. Then with less than three minutes of regulation time remaining, Maple Leafs’ goal machine Auston Matthews bagged his 41st of the season to ensure the final match of the season went to overtime.

However, Norris’s intervention ensured that the overtime period would be a brief affair. This victory also owed a lot to goaltender Filip Gustavsson and his 30 saves.

By scoring four times in this final match, the Senators became the only NHL team to score in every match of the 2020-21 season. Coach D.J. Smith also struck a positive note as he looked forward to next season, saying: "These guys are getting better and it's good to see.”

This victory ends the Senators’ season on a positive note, but with more than a tinge of disappointment, given that their play-off hopes essentially ended several months ago. Nevertheless, this thrilling final day win over the North division champions was the perfect conclusion.

Ottawa finished with 23 wins in regulation time from their 56-match season, with an additional five wins via overtime. While 14 regulation time wins from their 28 home matches certainly represents a fair return, on their travels the team fared less well, winning only nine matches during regulation time. The teams’ away form has to be the principal reason why they ultimately finished second from bottom in the table.

Brown finished as the leading goal scorer with 21, four ahead of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson. Tkachuk ended as the leading points scorer thanks to his 19 assists, while Brown’s 14 assists and the 18 assists from Norris took them both to 35 points. Batherson contributed 17 assists to complement his 17 goals. However, the player with the most assists was Thomas Chabot with 25, seven ahead of any other player in the squad.

Norris finished with the best shooting percentage, at 17.7%, closely followed by Brown at 17.1%. Brown’s impressive goalscoring record this season also includes as many as five short-handed goals, with no other player scoring more than one short-handed goal during the course of the year.

After a fine rookie season, Senators will hope to see more of the same from Norris next season. At 23 years old, Batherson is another player with great potential.

While there are no playoffs this year, four Senators players are heading off to the IIHF World Championships in Riga, Latvia. As expected, Artem Zub is in the Russia squad, having made 17 international appearances in the past. Brown and Nick Paul are named in the Canadian squad for the tournament and are in line for their senior international debuts, while their Senators teammate Jacob Bernard-Docker, will also appear at the World Championships for the first time.

Defenseman Chabot is one of 31 nominees for the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy. This is awarded to a player who both shows exceptional leadership qualities and who makes a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in the community.

The season also ends with speculation as to whether the Senators are on the move, with owner Eugene Melnyk believing that it’s time to leave the Canadian Tire Centre for a modern, purpose-built arena. Melnyk’s preferred option appears to be to build a new 15,000 capacity venue on a 70-acre site on land he currently owns close to the Tire Centre. However, he has also stated that he would consider relocating to the Gatineau area of the city, citing frustration with city mayor Jim Watson over a supposed lack of support for the team’s ambitions.