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Senators head into the NHL all-star break on a 4-game winning streak

February 2, 2023, 2:04 PM ET [1 Comments]
Guest Writer
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Ken Hawkins, Guest Writer

The Senators pulled out a 5-4 win against the Canadiens on Tuesday night, with Brady Tkachuk scoring the game-winner with just 1:18 remaining in the 3rd period. It was a far more entertaining and spirited match than the first half of the home & home series, where the Senators handed the Canadiens a 5-0 rout. Despite playing well in the previous 3 games, Anton Forsberg looked shaky at times in giving up 4 goals on 32 shots, plus a pair of third-period leads. But Tim Stutzle continued his breakout season with a 2G-2A effort, set up the GWG, and was clearly the best player on the ice. As for Montreal, kudos to Rafael Harvey-Pinard, who continues to make the most of his call-up from the AHL, and to the Canadiens fan whose reaction to the GWG yielded the clearest ‘double-bird’ I’ve seen on TV in quite some time.

The NHL all-star break comes at something of an unfortunate time for the Senators given their recent winning streak, but it will also give time for some of the team’s injured players to recover. Artem Zub has missed the past 8GP with a lower-body injury, and is still recovering from having a broken jaw in December. Cam Talbot’s lower-body injury is expected to keep him out of the lineup until mid-late February, and Mark Kastelic is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Tyler Motte also recently returned to the lineup for the home & home series vs. Montreal after being out of the lineup for over a month.

Ridley Greig proving his value
Former 1st round pick and WJC standout Ridley Greig continues to impress and has brought a welcome mix of energy and two-way ability to the middle-six forwards. Earlier this year, the 20yo needed just 28GP in Belleville to establish himself as one of the team’s best forwards. His strong play has now carried over to the NHL, where he’s been in the lineup for each game of the Senators’ recent 4-game winning streak, scored 2pts, and registered a plus-minus of +4. Expectations had been high for Greig as a first-round pick and the primary return of the Jean-Gabriel Pageau trade, but if his recent play is any indication a bright future lies ahead.

To buy or not to buy
That is the question Pierre Dorion will be pondering over the next week and a half. With a stated expectation of playing meaningful games late in the season, the Senators currently sit ~6pts out of a playoff spot with multiple teams ahead of them in the wild-card chase. On the positive side, the team won their last 4 straight, and now enters a February schedule that includes 6/10GP on home ice, and 5/10GP against teams with records in the bottom 10 of the league. However, the team will have to be very careful with their evaluation leading up to the trade deadline, because in March/April they’ll play >60% of games against playoff-quality opponents. And despite the winning streak, they’ll still need to play at a ~108Pts pace just to make the last wild card spot.

Additionally, one of the most contentious issues surrounding the team is the future of Alex DeBrincat, whose RFA status looms large heading into the trade deadline. Brought in as one of the central figures of the “Summer of Dorion”, the undersized forward has been productive but not to the extent many had hoped. He currently leads the team with 21PP points, but also has the fewest ES points of any of the top-5 scoring forwards, and has the 2nd worst plus-minus rating on the team. With major holes on the blue lines, in addition to potential UFA losses that include Talbot, Hamonic, Brassard, Motte, Holden, and Watson, it will be interesting to see if Dorion looks to use DeBrincat as currency to make longer-term changes to the roster, or doubles down on his investment with a major RFA extension.

The Senators’ season will resume on Saturday, February 11th vs. Edmonton, which is the first of two meetings the teams have this year. Last year, the Senators went 2-0 vs. the Oilers, including a 6-4 win in Edmonton and a 3-2 (OT) win at home.
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