He's been on the job for a little more than a month, but new goaltending coach Zac Bierk's influence is in full effect.
Since being hired April 6, Sens goaltenders have gone 8-5-1 while giving up 2.36 goals per game and registering a .930 save percentage.
"We have reason to be excited and optimistic about the future," Bierk said. "I think we've got a lot of different skillsets of different goalies.
"A lot of guys have made a really good case for themselves of earning playing time so I think it's a good problem to have."
Bierk is right about that. Most notably has been Matt Murray's play since his hiring. Over five games, the 26-year-old posted a 3-1 record with two shutouts alongside a 1.37 GAA and .954 save percentage before suffering a lower-body injury April 24 in Vancouver. Sens head coach D.J. Smith said earlier today that he hopes Murray can play in the Sens' season finale Wednesday against Toronto.
"Part of my mindset coming into this was to start fresh with him," Bierk said of Murray. "It wasn't about reinventing or rediscovering but just taking it on a day-by-day basis. [It was] making a connection with him and going into this, if him and I could get on the same page with a couple of things that we wanted to work on, that would be a good starting point and in a small sample size he showed a willingness to make some adjustments and with some success."
In four games since Bierk's hiring, Anton Forsberg and Marcus Hogberg have each gone 2-2 with near identical 2.55 and 2.53 GAA's and .914 and .912 save percentages, respectively.
Filip Gustavsson has gone 1-0-1 with a .941 save percentage and 1.98 GAA.
"It's important to have a digestible message with attainable goals and manageable goals," Bierk said. "In my playing days, the goalie coaches that I responded the best to were the ones that gave me a couple of steps rather than 10 or 15 things to work on. I think there has to be reciprocal communication.
"It's not just about making everybody play the same way or having a bunch of set rules; it's about understanding each individual with what makes them tick and their technical strengths and weaknesses and then once the coach and the goalie get on the same page with a couple of points that tends to establish that connection and make working together easier."
Since his hiring, Bierk said his first point of priority was to establish connections with the Sens' goaltenders, including Joey Daccord, Kevin Mandolese and Mads Sogaard too. With the number of injuries the Senators have faced in the crease this year it's given Bierk an opportunity to spend a lot of time with them on a personal and professional level despite being on the job for a mere month.
As for the job itself, the 44-year-old joined the Sens from the Arizona Coyotes where he held the title of goaltending development coach and had been working towards the goal of being an NHL goaltending coach. The chance to work alongside Smith once again appealed greatly to Bierk after the pair won a Memorial Cup in 2015 with the Oshawa Generals.
"I've seen what D.J. can do in inspiring a group and I think that is evident with this young team," Bierk said. "We're known as a young team and that gets a lot of people excited but I think we're seeing some of these young guys embracing the grind and embracing the work and taking on leadership roles at a young age. I've seen D.J. get a group on the same page and have buy-in across the board and I think that gives a lot of reason for optimism going forward."
With a background as a development coach, Bierk also recognizes the importance of Justin Peters' role in the organization as the Belleville Senators' goaltending coach and that it's critical the pair have constant dialogue and messaging between the NHL and AHL levels.
"Establishing communication with Justin in Belleville is an important first step so there's some consistency with what we're trying to get across to these goaltenders," Bierk said. "Although they all play differently, there's certain things we want to see trickle throughout the organization."