Young scor­ing stars create prom­ise, but Sens have to fix their de­fense

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

Fol­low along as we try to get a grip on the wacky, wide-open ride the new-look Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors have taken us on in the open­ing week of the sea­son.

Let’s be­gin with the ex­cite­ment that comes from see­ing the speedy, shiny stuff and tak­ing in the new car smell.

The early bash of Brady Tkachuk, the flash of Alex For­men­ton, the slick­ness of Thomas Chabot and the shock of Max La­joie have cre­ated a buzz of prom­ise. If you look hard enough, you can glimpse a lit­tle bit of the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils here, a team that caught fire with the help of young­sters Nico His­chier, Jes­per Bratt, Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher.

Like the once plod­ding Devils, the Sen­a­tors pa­tient trap game of yore has has been re­placed by an end-to-end track meet. The edge of the seat ac­tion from the first four games in­cludes the fol­low­ing: a com­bined four goals in a 7:26 span against Chicago, four goals in 4:27 at Toronto, four goals in 13:56 in Bos­ton and five goals in a 14:25 stretch with Philadel­phia in town on Wed­nes­day.

All told, we’ve seen 35 goals in 241 min­utes. Go to the bath­room or go for a beer and you might miss a goal or three.

Yes, shinny is fun. Yet if we’ve learned any­thing about the na­ture of ex­tended NHL suc­cess, all that glit­ters is not goal.

If the Sen­a­tors had caught a break or two, they might have an­other win, in­stead of their cur­rent 1-2-1 record. At the same time, they could also be win­less, due to their sloppy play.

Look un­der the hood of the sporty new Sen­a­tors ve­hi­cle and too many pieces in the ini­tial stages of the re­build­ing project aren’t in sync. Far too of­ten, the brakes aren’t even work­ing.

For­get about the no­tion of a shut­down pair of de­fence­men. As much as coach Guy Boucher tries to jug­gle his largely in­ex­pe­ri­enced group, the Sen­a­tors have yet to find sin­gle blue­liner who can con­sis­tently con­tain top for­wards in his own zone. Ac­cord­ingly, Jake Vo­racek de­liv­ered a five-point night in the Flyers 7-4 win Wed­nes­day and Pa­trice Berg­eron put up four points in Bos­ton’s 6-3 win on Mon­day.

With­out in­jured cen­tre JeanGabriel Pageau around to lead the nec­es­sary at­ten­tion to de­fen­sive de­tail among the for­wards, the break­downs have been com­pounded that much more.

In Craig An­der­son’s three starts, the Sen­a­tors have given up 43, 37 and 45 shots. Only John Gib­son of the Ana­heim Ducks has seen more ac­tion, and he has played in four games.

“There’s no rea­son to panic or any­thing, but we’ve got to learn quick,” cen­tre Matt Duch­ene said fol­low­ing the loss to the Flyers.

Ul­ti­mately, an ag­gres­sive at­tack only works if a team can ad­just quickly to a counter-at­tack. The Flyers had a field day in ex­ploit­ing turnovers in and around the blue­lines.

“We’ve given up a lot of goals,” Mark Stone said of the league­lead­ing 20 that the Sen­a­tors have al­ready yielded. “We’re turn­ing the puck over and let­ting them come back pretty easy. (The Flyers) got three goals off the rush, as well, so that stuff can’t hap­pen.”

Whether the Sen­a­tors have the nec­es­sary skill to plug all those holes fol­low­ing the sum­mer sell­off is an open ques­tion.

What we do know is that the new, younger edi­tion of the Sen­a­tors prac­tice harder and longer. Af­ter tak­ing one of their league-man­dated days off Thurs­day, the Sen­a­tors should be fully pre­pared for yet an­other back-to-ba­sics work­out Fri­day in prepa­ra­tion for Satur­day’s mati­nee against the Los An­ge­les Kings.

The mes­sage is that try­ing to win by trad­ing chances in a game of odd-man rushes won’t work.

“It’s ex­cit­ing, but it’s not go­ing to win many games,” says Boucher, who in­sists he was fully pre­pared for a bumpy ride at the start of the sea­son.

In the big pic­ture, there’s no dif­fer­ence be­tween los­ing a game 7-4 or 4-1. Ei­ther way, it comes up zero in the points col­umn.

There’s no ques­tion, though, that a high-scor­ing loss cre­ates more pos­i­tive at­ten­tion than a low-scor­ing de­feat.

The happy medium, of course, is find­ing the del­i­cate balance be­tween the two that leads to the road of con­sis­tent suc­cess.


Alex For­men­ton of the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 6 in Toronto. For­men­ton’s play along with other young­sters like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Max La­joie have cre­ated a buzz of prom­ise in Ot­tawa.

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