From 1997 to 2008, Ottawa Senators fans were a little spoiled. During that era, the Sens went to a Cup Final, two conference championships, and never once missed the playoffs. For many years, sellouts were common, with the average attendance between 18 to 19 thousand fans a night.
But from 2008-09 to the present, generally speaking, the Sens haven’t been very good. In that 14-year window, they’ve missed the playoffs 9 times, including 5 times in the last 5 years. Fans grew discouraged about ownership tactics and losing. And then came the COVID concerns. According to hockeydb.com, attendance in Ottawa last season dropped to an average of 10,145 fans a night.
What a difference one off-season can make.
As the Senators get ready for their 2022-23 Home Opener Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins, the game is sold out and the club says season ticket sales are up 60%.
A year ago, that would have been surprising. But not now. Now, there’s a brand-new energy around the team, with new owners and decision makers who’ve sensibly mended fences with the team’s top players of the past. They’ve extended olive branches to the city and the NCC, and now they’re back on track for a new downtown arena. The Hall of Fame added to the excitement of an amazing off-season, finally tapping the great Daniel Alfredsson for induction next month.
But best of all, the Sens have a fun, exciting team again – maybe the most skilled team in their 30-year history. They already had an exciting young core, constructed with assets they picked up in their long rebuild. Then they added three all-stars, sparing no expense, picking up Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and Cam Talbot. And, of course, the fear of indoor gatherings is all but gone.
For the majority of the Senators younger players, this will be the largest home crowd they’ve ever seen.
“It’s supposed to be the biggest crowd in the last five years,” said head coach D.J. Smith. “That’s great for our guys. We played a whole year with no fans (during COVID) and now we’ve got a sold-out building. We’re going to give them an absolute effort.”
Tuesday’s sell-out is a far cry from last year’s home opener, a 3-2 win over Toronto. The Sens drew a crowd of 15,159 fans that night and half of them appeared to be Leaf fans.
The club is asking fans to arrive early to enjoy pre-game festivities, including the introduction of the 2022-23 roster. Smith didn’t rule out changes, but the lines from Saturday night looked exactly the same at Monday practice.
Tkachuk Stützle Batherson
DeBrincat Norris Giroux
Motte Pinto Joseph
Kelly Kastelic Watson
The Matchup: Despite all their injuries (Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo), the 2-0 Bruins still have plenty of firepower. Just Czech out David Pastrnak and David Krejci, who combined for 8 points in the first two games. They also have former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall and five-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron, who toyed with retirement over the summer. Bergeron and Krejci both returned on one-year deals. Krejci went home to play last season in Czechia.
The Bs will likely have a couple of former Senators in their lineup in Nick Foligno and Mike Reilly. Both suited up for the two Boston games after being placed on waivers last week. After two years in Boston, the affable Curts Lazar is now a Canuck.
A.J. Greer had 3 points in the win over Arizona, which matches his career high for NHL points in a season. Yes, we said career high. Certainly, the 25-year-old didn’t get a one-way deal in Boston to be a scorer. Greer is big, strong and fast with a nasty disposition. The Sens would be well served to make note of when he’s on the ice.
Injury Updates: Smith says goalie Cam Talbot (rib injury) is starting to feel a lot better but remains a couple of weeks away from returning. Nikita Zaitsev was back at practice Monday after leaving early during Saturday’s game in Toronto.
Lack of Run Support: Anton Forsberg will eventually be challenged for the starter’s role when Talbot returns. But for now, the net belongs to him. Forsberg rescued the Sens from the Matt Murray experience last season, and managed to come out with a winning record. Through two games this season, he has a .924 save percentage and a 2.56 goals against average. Now he just needs his teammates to finish off the many scoring chances they’ve been getting.
Your Money’s No Good Here: Canadian Tire Centre (including parking lots) is no longer accepting cash so be sure to have your credit/debit cards and apps handy. They do have reverse ATMs in the rink where fans will be able to insert cash and receive a physical card that can be used to pay for items at concessions and restaurants.