It’s all about learn­ing on the fly for Chabot and com­pany

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - KEN WAR­REN

For Thomas Chabot and the rest of the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors, the open­ing three games of the Na­tional Hockey League reg­u­lar sea­son have been all about ex­per­i­men­ta­tion: hits and misses, trial and er­ror, a dose of this, a dab of that.

Or, in the words of Matt Duch­ene af­ter the Sen­a­tors’ 1-1-1 start, “a mixed bag of ev­ery­thing.”

The un­der­ly­ing tone ap­plies off the ice, too.

In a fun, goofy, suc­cess­ful at­tempt at dead­pan hu­mour put out by the Sen­a­tors’ in-house video team be­fore Mon­day’s game against the Bos­ton Bru­ins, Chabot found him­self in the role of straight man.

“I had no clue what we were talk­ing about, to be hon­est, but I thought it was pretty fun and I’m glad peo­ple en­joyed it,” Chabot said Tues­day, in ad­vance of Wed­nes­day’s game against the Philadel­phia Fly­ers at Cana­dian Tire Cen­tre. “I saw all the peo­ple laugh­ing (on so­cial me­dia) and hav­ing fun with it, so it worked out well.” It was a cal­cu­lated gam- ble in what fig­ures to be a sea­son full of them dur­ing the re­build­ing process, with count­less ups and downs along the way.

The hol­i­day week­end games were cases in point. Chabot was the star of stars in Satur­day’s 5-3 vic­tory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, scor­ing twice, adding an as­sist and reg­is­ter­ing a plus/mi­nus rat­ing of plus four. In Mon­day’s 6-3 loss to Bos­ton, Chabot was part of a squad that made too many mis­takes to stay in the game, let­ting Pa­trice Berg­eron and his Bru­ins team­mates take con­trol.

“When we looked back at the video, those were team mis­takes. Those (er­rors) we can get out of our game and get bet­ter at,” Chabot said. “We’re pretty happy with the way we’re go­ing.”

Make no mis­take about it, the Sen­a­tors are a long way from think­ing about bat­tling for an Eastern Con­fer­ence play­off spot. It will re­main that way un­til head coach Guy Boucher can find a pair or pairs of re­li­able de­fence­men who can con­sis­tently keep top op­po­si­tion lines from dom­i­nat­ing.

How­ever, dur­ing a sea­son cen­tred around growth and de­vel­op­ing for a brighter to­mor­row, the young wave of play­ers is not par­a­lyzed with the fear of mak­ing mis­takes. That stands as a big change from the 2016-17 and 2017-18 Sen­a­tors, also coached by Boucher.

“(Chabot) is fi­nally con­fi­dent in be­ing able to make the plays that he knows he can make,” al­ter­nate cap­tain Mark Stone said. “When he first stuck with the team out of training camp (two years ago), he kind of just made the play he was told to make. When you’re young and try­ing to make the team, you’re try­ing to not make mis­takes, in­stead of maybe play­ing the way that got you here. (Now), he has made the plays that have helped our team win a lot of games.”

The on-the-job training has also al­lowed de­fence­man Max La­joie to re­lax as he finds his feet in his first NHL sea­son.

“They’re mak­ing me learn from my mis­takes, which is nice,” said La­joie, who scored in the sea­sonopen­ing 4-3 shootout loss to the Chicago Black­hawks. “Be­cause, if you make a mis­take and you get sat (out), your con­fi­dence goes down pretty quick.”

Boucher will con­tinue tin­ker­ing with this, that and every other thing as the Sen­a­tors kick off a five-game home­s­tand against Claude Giroux and the Fly­ers.

For now, Chabot’s de­fen­sive part­ner is Dy­lan DeMelo, while La­joie will play be­side Cody Ceci. Mark Borowiecki and Chris Wide­man for­man­other tan­dem as Boucher tries, des­per­ately, to find at least one solid de­fender on each pair.

At for­ward, Brady Tkachuk will play with Duch­ene and Mikkel Boed­ker, while Ryan Dzin­gel skates along­side Zack Smith and Stone. Boucher likes the looks of Alex For­men­ton be­side Chris Tier­ney and Bobby Ryan. The unit of Colin White, Mag­nus Paa­jarvi and Tom Py­att could see matchup duty against the Fly­ers’ top line of Giroux, Sean Cou­turier and Jake Vo­racek.

“I need to try things to see what I’ve got,” Boucher said.

Let the ex­per­i­ments con­tinue.

JEAN LEVAC/POSTMEDIA NET­WORK

The Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors’ Thomas Chabot takes part in morn­ing prac­tice in Ot­tawa, on Tues­day.

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