Sports

Ottawa Senators: Kleven’s Debut, Chabot’s Season-Ender, and The State of Things with Eight Games Left

Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images

When the month of March began, the Ottawa Senators had real playoff hopes.

On March 1st, they acquired Jakob Chychrun, who immediately helped the Sens win two games over the Rangers and Blue Jackets. At that moment, the Sens finally had their shiny new, top four defenceman, they were 12-4 in their last 16 games, and they winners of five games in a row.
Things looked promising.
But then Cam Talbot, their only NHL-tested goalie got hurt. Then the Sens lost 5-0 to Chicago, a team that’s currently one point out of dead last overall. Then Ottawa went on a March run of 4-7-1, securing only 9 out of a possible 24 points.
That murdered any legitimate hope of the Senators ending their current five year playoff drought.
Now Talbot returns to action this week like a parent coming home to a filthy house that was perfectly clean when he left. He’ll be backstopping a very different team – one that entered March like a playoff lion, and now threatening to go out like a lottery lamb.
There are eight games remaining and eight isn’t enough. With 16 points available, the Senators need them all, and some help, to land a playoff spot. That’s a ridiculous ask of even the best, healthiest teams, let alone a club that always has someone banged up and never strays very far from being a .500 hockey club (they’re .520 right now).
And the Sens will have to roll to the finish line without two of their best three defencemen. Chychrun and Thomas Chabot are both injured, gone from Ottawa’s blue line for the next couple of weeks, which is almost all that’s left of the regular season.
Chabot was dinged up in Monday night’s 5-2 win over Florida.

“He kinda went in weird there,” head coach D.J. Smith said. “And tried to come back, played a shift, couldn’t go. And I’ve said this and I’ve maintained this: He’s as tough a player as I’ve ever coached when it comes to playing through injuries. I don’t think people understand how many injuries this guy plays through on a nightly basis.”

That opens the door for rookie Tyler Kleven, who just left North Dakota and signed his entry level NHL deal. Kleven had 18 points in 35 games this season but his calling card is a big shot, a big frame (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and a big willingness to use both to his advantage. He’ll debut on the 5-6 pairing with Nick Holden.
With all the nerves and pressure of Kleven playing in his first NHL game, Smith is being careful not to add to it. His advice to the kid is simple.
“Have fun, play hockey, do what you do,” Smith said. “(Kleven) has raw talent, raw ability. Yeah, it’s a tall order to come in in this situation – first NHL game. But the guys are going to help him through it. Sometimes it’s the best thing, just get thrown right in there.”
Even if Kleven is used sparingly, his selection right now as Ottawa’s “next man up” may be seen as a discouraging development down on the farm.
After all, the Sens do have other blue line options with way more NHL experience, like first rounders Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson, who’ve both been paying their dues, riding the buses in the minors for the last two years. You could even look at someone like 21-year-old Max Guenette, who’s played two full seasons in Belleville and currently stands 5th in team scoring. Guenette must be wondering what he has to do to get into his first NHL game. While Kleven is an interesting prospect, absolutely no one regards him as a “can’t-miss” kind of player. As the rawest of the raw, he can be counted on to make errors at a time in the season when there’s room for absolutely none.
Even if Kleven is used sparingly, his selection right now as Ottawa’s “next man up” may be seen as a discouraging development down on the farm. Or maybe the Senators are just being realistic, accepting their probable fate and using their final games to take stock of things for next season.
Meanwhile, the injury news isn’t all bad. Not only is Talbot ready to return, reports of Ridly Greig’s seasonal demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Greig is questionable for tomorrow night with a sternum injury that obviously isn’t as serious as it originally appeared.
On Thursday night, the Sens host Claude Giroux’s old team, the Philadelphia Flyers, who haven’t gotten the memo they have nothing to play for anymore. The Flyers are the hottest team in the league over the past week, hoping to keep their four-game winning streak alive.

This is the rubber match between the two clubs, who each posted road victories in their two previous meetings back in November.

By Steve Warne

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