Senators’ wild card hopes end with dramatic loss to Panthers
In one of the most bizarre and least family-friendly 7-2 games you’ll ever see, it was the team that put up 58 shots on goal that wound up on the wrong end of the score. The teams also combined for over 160 penalty minutes, including fighting majors for both Tkachuk brothers, and misconduct penalties to 9 different players. Even DJ Smith managed to get himself ejected from the game, which is a pretty telling sign that frustration and disappoint have settled in.
The loss ended what had been an endearing wild card chase by the Senators, who delivered on the promise of playing meaningful games late in the season. Had the team been healthy it’s possible they would still be in the chase, but they’ve been anything but healthy. Significant injuries to 3 of their 4 best veteran d-men and injuries to both of their 1A/1B goaltenders made keeping pace difficult. Several of the team’s young prospects stepped up with commendable efforts, but in the end it wasn’t enough. But there’s a lot to like about the team’s growth this season, and the future remains very bright.
Few things in the Senators’ 2022/23 season have been more bizarre than the goaltending situation. It started in the off-season with the drama of the Murray/Talbot trades, one of which now looks very good and one of which now looks very bad. Then, after a late pre-season injury to Talbot, the Senators were forced to pick up Magnus Hellberg off waivers. And while I’m not certain exactly how many other NHL teams have ever started a season with two waiver-acquired goaltenders, I feel that number is probably very close to zero.
This led to a very erratic patchwork of starting goaltender coverage from Forsberg/Talbot, with neither playing more than 35GP, neither having a save % better than .902, and neither having a GAA better than 2.89. Injuries to both led to rookie Mads Sogaard being relied on far too often down the stretch, along with a patchwork of rookie back-up G that included Kevin Madolese, Dylan Ferguson, and Leevi Merilainen. All four showed glimpses of solid play but also significant inconsistency, and the team’s fortunes followed suit.
For additional context, it should be noted that a team having 7 different players start in goal within a season is the 2nd most in NHL history. And those issues aren’t limited to the NHL, as the Belleville Senators in the AHL have used an even more absurd 10 different goaltenders this season. Worse yet, Filip Gustavsson has emerged with a career-best season for Minnesota, and there is growing evidence of a major rift between DJ Smith and Cam Talbot. This sets the table for yet another off-season of major question marks in goal, all while cap space is at an increasing premium.
The default solution at this point would be to start next season with a tandem of Anton Forsberg and Mads Sogaard. However, this depends significantly on how well Forsberg recovers from the significant injury that ended his season, and the extent to which they feel Sogaard will be able to improve while under NHL pressure. This raises the possibility of them pursuing one of the more prominent UFA goaltender in the off-season, which could include Semyon Varlamov, Frederik Andersen, or Antti Raanta. Andersen could be an especially interesting name to watch, as there could be a perceived benefit to having a veteran Danish mentor for Sogaard.
Regardless, it’s clear that the team needs to have a different approach between the pipes for next season, or they will risk falling short once again in their goal to return to playoff hockey.
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