Windsor Star

Sens look for big finish, starting with Canucks

- BRUCE GARRIOCH

The Ottawa Senators want to head home on a high note next month.

With 10 games left to play, the Senators will begin the final stretch to the end of this 56-game season when they open a four-game series against the Canucks on Thursday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Many wondered if these games would even be played after the Canucks were shut down for three weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, the NHL has rearranged the schedule so Vancouver can finish the season, and as a result, these two teams will meet twice on the coast before heading back to the Canadian Tire Centre for two more games next week.

And before the Senators close out the schedule on May 12 at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, coach D.J. Smith hopes many of his young players will know the areas where they need to improve in the off-season.

What would Smith like to see improve?

“Just our identity as a team as to what we give up, our goals against, and just continue to work at that,” Smith said following the club's 35-minute skate on Wednesday in Vancouver. “Our discipline away from the puck and just making it hard for other teams to get good looks. When we do that, we tend to get our own looks, as well.

“Some of these kids, the more they get to play, the more comfortabl­e they are We want them to feel comfortabl­e going into next year.”

When Smith talks about the kids, he's referring to high-end forwards Tim Stuetzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton and Shane Pinto, along with defencemen Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-docker. The latter won't play against the Canucks, but he'll get more chances to learn the NHL game down the stretch.

He won't have many veterans to lean on, but winger Ryan Dzingel, considered to be a veteran at age 28, is trying to lead by example. He learned the hard way from the likes of Dion Phaneuf, Chris Neil and Derick Brassard, so now he's trying to lend a hand in that department.

“A lot of the older guys were really, really hard on me and my first year was hell,” Dzingel said with a smile.

“That was the old school mentality. We don't have too many old guys and I feel it's hard for me to be that way … but sometimes guys need that.”

“When I look back at that time, and all the guys who helped me, at the time you don't think it's necessary or you get a little down but those things they told you and those things you learned from them you build off in the summer and then in the summers that follow. As long as they continue to build off (what they've learned) in the summer and continue to improve, instead of taking four months off, these guys will have a huge year next season.

Dzingel doesn't think he has to be relentless with the young players because he admires what they bring to the table, but it's OK to give them the odd verbal jab to keep them honest.

“Sometimes you can get on them to make sure they're doing the right things,” Dzingel said.

“… They're a special, special group, all of these young guys, and, hopefully, we can build all of

Everyone of these games teams are scratching and clawing so these are important minutes and great times for our kids …

this next season.”

That's why Smith is trying to put these players in positions where they can have success.

“They have to be in positions to succeed,” Smith said. “There's not a team we play that's out of it yet. Every one of these games teams are scratching and clawing so these are important minutes and great times for our kids to be out there and we'll continue to put them in those spots.”

Smith won't make any changes against the Canucks. He does plan to get Bernard-docker, 20, back into the lineup after he made his NHL debut last week, but Smith has been pleased with the play of Josh Brown.

The Senators have an opportunit­y in these final 10 games to go out on a high note against a Canucks squad that's still battling for a playoff spot.

“These are the games we want to be part of,” said Chabot.

“To face teams right now, when every single point is important for them, is good for us. It gives us a good challenge as a group on playing with a bit more purpose and, at the same time, still build our team so when we come in next year we already have something establishe­d.”

 ?? ERROL MCGIHON ?? Coach D.J. Smith says “identity,” including goals-against, is something the Senators need to work on as they prepare for next year.
ERROL MCGIHON Coach D.J. Smith says “identity,” including goals-against, is something the Senators need to work on as they prepare for next year.
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