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Senators: Without Stutzle and Norris, Who Will Shoulder the Load at Centre?

OTTAWA, CANADA - NOVEMBER 30: Tim Stützle #18 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the New York Rangers at Canadian Tire Centre on November 30, 2022 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Things are starting to look up for the Ottawa Senators.

In a 3-0 win over Anaheim Monday night, Cam Talbot posted the club’s first shutout of the season. Since November 25th, the Senators have posted a 6-2-1 record in their last nine games. That’s 13 points collected out of the possible 18 up for grabs.

It would be nice to suggest the black clouds in Ottawa have lifted, but unfortunately, there is still some rain in the parade forecast. 

It would appear that, for the foreseeable future, the club’s top two centres will be watching games together in a suite, both waiting for bad shoulders to heal. 

Tim Stutzle took an awkward fall into the boards Monday night.

Sens head coach D.J. Smith reported Tuesday morning that Stutzle will undergo further testing and the club will update his status on Wednesday. Since most minor injuries – bruises or small strains – don’t generally require “further testing,” that doesn’t sound particularly promising.

Here in his third season, Stutzle has emerged as a point per game scorer, and just as importantly, the young German is starting to show meaningful improvements in the defensive part of his game – a must for any NHL centre.

Stutzle joins Josh Norris on the sidelines, at least for the short term. Norris has missed the past 23 games with his own shoulder issue, his second in as many years, suffered in the midst of an awkwardly-taken faceoff.

This means Ottawa’s centre ice depth chart is now Shane Pinto, a rookie with 21 points in 45 career games; Mark Kastelic, a rookie with 7 points in 41 career games; veteran Derick Brassard, who made this year’s team on a professional tryout; Dylan Gambrell, a journeyman with 31 points in 183 games; and Rourke Chartier, Belleville’s third leading scorer, who made his Sens debut Monday night.

So it would stand to reason, fairly obviously, that Claude Giroux would move to the middle. Giroux played centre in Philadelphia for years, putting up big numbers and all-star selections.

“I mean, that is an option,” Smith said. “But I think right now the way he’s played on the wing for us… we do have a lot of centres at this point and not as many wingers. It is a big difference when you’re taking one of your top scorers, and now it’s a 200 foot game every single shift, every single night. It all depends on how long Tim will be out. If it’s just a short fix, yes. But we’ll look at all those things once we know the tests.”

That sounds like a coach who’s worried about Giroux getting worn down by the extra skating that centremen have to do in a game, getting down low in their own end to help their defencemen. But when the alternative is Pinto and Brassard, it’s a move that absolutely must be made until either Stutzle or Norris get back.

Tyler Motte, who’s emerged as a solid, bottom-six energy guy, also got hurt on Monday night on what appeared to be a late, unnecessary hit behind Anaheim’s net. The club is also without defenceman Artem Zub and forward Mathieu Joseph.

The Senators are hoping for happy injury news on Stutzle on Wednesday. But the way things have been going, it’s more likely to be another shoulder to cry on.

By Steve Warne

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