It’s performances like these with this group of players that make Ottawa Senator fans wonder if a three-to-five year rebuild is even necessary.
On Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets landed in Canada’s capital city only to be handled masterfully by the Ottawa Senators. The scoring started early and it happened often in this afternoon matinee at Canadian Tire Centre, which resulted in a 5-2 Senators win. Mark Stone started the game’s scoring less than three minutes after the opening face-off. He would go on to score another in this game, while other Senator goals came from Ryan Dzingel, Matt Duchene and Zack Smith. Bryan Little and Brendan Lemieux replied for the Jets.
“We came out strong. We were expecting them to come out strong…they are a big hard team, they’re physical, they got skill, they got everything, so we were expecting that“, said Senators head coach Guy Boucher.
Zack Smith also acknowledged the challenges of playing the Jets.
“Very good team, very skilled offensively. They have some good players, so it’s a confidence booster for us. We played a good game last game too, so it’s nice to get two in a row here and get a little momentum“.
With the win, Ottawa improves their record to 21-29-5 and 47 points. Despite remaining last in the NHL, they creep within one point of the New Jersey Devils and a slew of other teams not doing much better. Meanwhile, Winnipeg drops to 34-18-3 and they remain at 71 points. It was undoubtedly an upset victory for the Senators to defeat the third-placed team in the league.
Nearly Ready-Made or Rebuild?
As the Feb. 25 trade deadline looms on the horizon, trade rumours are reaching a boiling point in Ottawa. They are especially intense around their top three forwards in Stone, Duchene, and Dzingel.
It’s performances like this one against the Jets that make the Senators look nearly ready-made, rather than ready to rebuild.
In two of their past three games, Ottawa has taken on some of the NHL’s top teams. Versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, Ottawa dominated offensively but fell short by one goal in a 5-4 loss. In this game against the Jets, the Senators played even better to secure a surprise victory against a tough team. Between these two NHL giants were the free-falling Anaheim Ducks, who the Senators comfortably managed in a 4-0 shutout.
More recently, this team is playing complete hockey. There is still work to be done defensively, however, they are having no problems scoring goals. In addition, Ottawa’s special teams are clicking. Overall, the games of late have been skillful, entertaining, and loaded with action in every zone of the ice.
If Ottawa could lock-up this core group of players and develop their youthful prospects, it is possible this team could be ready for playoffs and a run at the Stanley Cup much sooner than expected.
Nilsson Stands Tall
Senators goalie Anders Nilsson stood tall in the crease for the second game in a row. Coming off a 4-0 shutout against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, Nilsson stopped 44 of 46 shots in this game. In the end, the Swedish native skated away with another win, 2.00 goals-against average, .957 save percent, and the game’s first star for the second game in a row.
“He won five of his last seven starts with us, and now that’s six of his last eight”, said Boucher about Nilsson. “He’s been practicing solid, he’s been playing solid, and when you got solid goaltending you can win any game, and we’re winning games“.
Stone also had praise for their goalie.
“He’s been good ever since he got here. I think he’s given us a chance to win every game“, said the Senators assistant captain. “The last two games have been 40 odd saves in back-to-back wins. He makes some big saves in key times as well“.
Nilsson appears to be really coming into form as an Ottawa Senator, and could soon be challenging Craig Anderson for the starters role if he is not already doing so. After struggling tremendously in the beginning of the season with the Vancouver Canucks, he has gained confidence since being acquired by Ottawa and has taken his game to the next level. The Senators acquired Nilsson on Jan. 2 along with Darren Archibald for Tom Pyatt, Mike McKenna, and a 2019 sixth-round pick.
Another Fight For Big Ben
After missing some time, big Ben Harpur returned to the line-up and made an immediate impact when he registered his sixth fight of the season. The 6’6″, 222-pound defenseman squared off with the Lemieux of the Jets in the first period. This tilt set the tone for the rest of the game in favour of the home team. Harpur scored a decisive takedown after the two players exchanged a series of heavy blows on one another. Afterward, Senators’ Mark Borowiecki skated over to the penalty box to give his teammate a fist pump for his efforts.
After the game, Boucher was very complimentary of Harpur’s role on the team.
“Harpur made them feel his presence right away and throughout the game. He was really good, and really good on the penalty kill too“, said the head coach. Ottawa’s penalty kill this game was a perfect three-for-three versus the offensively talented Jets.
It was fitting for Harpur to make his presence felt in this game. It was one year ago that the native of Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario re-signed with the Senators. That was a two-year contract extension valued at $725,000 annually. The defenseman will become a restricted free agent on Jul. 1, 2020.
- Saturday was Hockey Day in Canada, with every Canadian team in action against a Canadian counterpart, with the exception of the Edmonton Oilers, who were matched up against the San Jose Sharks. In addition to the Sens and Jets, the Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Montreal Canadiens, while the Calgary Flames versed the Vancouver Canucks.
- As of Feb. 9, there are 16 days remaining until the 2019 Trade Deadline, which is set for Feb. 25.
Official 3 Stars of the Game
- Anders Nilsson, Ottawa
- Mark Stone, Ottawa
- Matt Duchene, Ottawa
The Senators will conclude their three-game home stand on Tuesday as they welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to Canadian Tire Centre. This will be the third and final match-up between these two teams this year. To date, the season series is tied 1-1-0. Carolina escaped with a 5-4 victory at the CTC on Jan. 6, while the Senators won 4-1 on the road in Raleigh on Jan. 18. Carolina is battling hard for a Wild Card spot in the East, and they sit just one point out of it entering Saturday’s games. The Hurricanes are 28-21-6 and have 62 points.
|Mark Stone (24)||Chris Tierney (30)
Rudolfs Balcers (2)
|Ryan Dzingel (21)||Cody Ceci (13)
Colin White (17)
|Bryan Little (14)||Patrik Laine (11)
Dustin Byfuglien (26)
|Mark Stone (25)||Thomas Chabot (32)
Matt Duchene (28)
|Matt Duchene (25)||Bobby Ryan (21)|
|Zack Smith (6)||Jean-Gabriel Pageau (3)|
|Brendan Lemieux (9)||Josh Morrissey (24)
Mason Appleton (6)
Cover Photo Credit: Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press
Billy Morrison covers the Ottawa Senators and the Atlantic Division for Full Press Coverage. Follow Billy on Twitter, @BillyMorrison01.