It’s a fact. The Ottawa Senators simply weren’t prepared for the 2021 NHL regular season.
How could they be?
They’d just come through a 10-month off-season, the longest in their history, playing no games of any kind in that span. They’d just turned over half their roster, had an abbreviated pre-season and played zero exhibition games. With all that, they were forced to go from zero-to-sixty, right into the fast lane of a new regular season.
That’s not just adversity. That’s impossible.
Under those circumstances, how in the world would a hockey coach be able to knock off his team’s rust; get everyone on the same page with team tactics and systems; properly get to know and evaluate his players; and figure out who should make the team and who should play together?
Individually, how can any player—veteran or rookie—be sharp and at his best when he hasn’t played a real game in so long? He’s supposed to find his own game while also figuring out his new systems, new line mates and their unique tendencies?
When you look at things that way—in the big picture—and not in the glass case of emotion created by these early, miserable games, you start to understand why the Senators are way they are right now. Where they are right now is back in the musty NHL cellar, dead last overall in the NHL.
So, there’s your explanation. That’s why the Ottawa Senators have tripped and face planted to start another season (they started 1-6-1 last season as well).
But now, the good excuses are over.
The Senators have now played eight games or roughly the equivalent of a good, long NHL exhibition schedule. A good coaching staff should have a pretty reasonable handle on things now. Players should have their skates under them now, feeling in game shape, and reasonably comfortable with new line mates and systems.
Now the judgements of this team can fairly begin.
D.J. Smith, who judges this team on a nightly basis, is clearly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
“You know what? I thought we worked hard,” said Smith, after their seventh straight loss Thursday in Vancouver. “We did. We stopped on pucks. We played the right way. I thought we played winning hockey. We didn’t win tonight. But that’s our best effort of the three games (in Vancouver) for sure.”
Smith also praised some of his young players who are trying to find their way in the league.
“I thought that was Timmy Stützle’s best game. He skated, he made plays. He had legs, he was jumping, he was excited. A lot of good things. Colin White played another good game tonight. We had a lot of guys giving everything they had tonight. We just didn’t get the result we wanted.”
If you looking for symbolism, look no further than the two young leaders of this team: Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. In both cases, their body language seemed to be yelling, “Enough of this nonsense.”
Chabot was saying it when he sprinted past defenceman Quinn Hughes for a solo, highlight-reel goal.
Tkachuk was saying it after 170-pound Adam Gaudette cross-checked him from behind. Tkachuk challenged Gaudette, who quickly stepped aside to let 205-pound teammate Zack McEwen fight his battle.
Tkachuk handled himself well, then got into a quarrel with Jay Beagle, who was chirping loudly from the safety of the Canucks bench. Then, as Tkachuk retreated to the Senator dressing room, he punched a Rogers Arena wall sign.
He’s clearly had enough of this nonsense too.
So, don’t measure the Ottawa Senators by what they did the past two weeks. It simply isn’t fair. Judge them by what they are now, starting Sunday in Edmonton. A team that should now be reasonably prepared to take on the NHL world.
No matter how good the excuses were, they simply don’t cut it anymore.
By Steve Warne