|Rookie forward Bobby Butler has produced four points in his last two games, a welcome sign for a Senators organization pointing toward a more youthful future (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
Given an opportunity to rightly bask in his offensive achievements, Bobby Butler
chose instead offered a reminder that he's still a work in progress.
“I feel comfortable, but I’m not there yet. I still have to work on things,” the rookie forward noted after recording consecutive two-point games against the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders. “I still need to work on the (defensive) zone and covering my spot. But I think every game, I feel more comfortable. Now I just need to get comfortable in the D-zone and everything will come together.”
While his game isn't quite there just yet, Butler is starting to give the Senators more reason to believe they made a wise move when they signed the 23-year-old native of Marlborough, Mass., as a college free agent last April. He notched his first career National Hockey League goal to start Ottawa on its way to a 5-3 victory in Edmonton last Saturday, then lit the lamp once more against the Isles on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place.
By game's end, Senators head coach Cory Clouston's faith in the young forward had grown to the point that Butler was sent out with the game on the line in the shootout. Butler couldn't beat Isles netminder Nathan Lawson and the visitors prevailed 4-3, but his continued offensive prowess was a victory of sorts in the Senators' drive to build a more youthful future.
Given the fact Senators general manager Bryan Murray has shipped out veteran forwards Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly in the last five days — with more such moves likely to come — it's imperative young players such as Butler and Erik Condra
, another Binghamton callup who made his NHL debut against the Isles, step forward in a big way.
"These are the type of players we have to work with and build and develop," Clouston said following the Senators' outdoor practice at Bayshore Park earlier today. "The last couple of games, Bobby played as well as he has at any time (this) year when he’s been up. He’s just had a little more confidence around the net and I think that’s the difference. He had some chances earlier on when we called him up (earlier this season) and now he’s putting them in the back of the net.
"I thought he made a real nice play on a loose puck on the power play and set up Ryan Shannon on his goal. It’s real important that these young guys continue to play and develop. And it’s exciting. Those guys are helping us right now in the last couple of games and we need them to continue to help us out down the stretch."
"I’m just more comfortable on the ice. I’m playing with more confidence and being out there regularly helps a lot. But definitely, the confidence has grown ... I'm just looking to play as hard as I can and just keep producing. Get more confidence for when the season starts next year and just let them know I’m ready to stay here." - Bobby Butler
Butler certainly is aware of the opportunity that is now being presented to him. And he's more than ready to run with it.
"I’m just more comfortable on the ice," he said. "I’m playing with more confidence and being out there regularly helps a lot. But definitely, the confidence has grown ... I'm just looking to play as hard as I can and just keep producing. Get more confidence for when the season starts next year and just let them know I’m ready to stay here."
The Senators are surely open to that kind of thinking.
"(Butler's) game is improving and I think it’s going to continue to improve with time and with confidence," said Clouston. "He’s a smart player and we need him to continue to contribute offensively and if he can keep adding to his game defensively, he’ll be that much more effective."
Opportunity is also now available on the blue line, with veterans Sergei Gonchar
and Chris Campoli both going down against the Isles with lower body injuries. Clouston isn't hopeful he'll have either this weekend, when the Senators face the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Place on Friday evening (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), then tangle with the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
"Both are doubtful for the weekend," said Clouston. "We hope it's not (longer). I can't see it being much more than this weekend. Cross our fingers, they might be ready for the weekend, but that's highly doubtful."
Campoli, for one, is optimistic his absence from the lineup won't be lengthy.
"We don’t know for sure but I don’t think it’s real, real serious. But there’s no timetable (for a return)," he said. "Hopefully it’s not something that’ll keep me out for a long time and I can get back out there and help the guys."Around the boards
The Senators finished the game against the Islanders with only four defencemen, but Clouston hopes Matt Carkner
(lower body) can return to fill one of those spots. "We still may have Matt skate tomorrow," said Clouston. "He might be ready for the weekend. We're not sure yet on that one. We have to wait and see whether it's one or two callups from Binghamton (for the weekend)" ... Captain Daniel Alfredsson
received some positive news from tests on his ailing lower back, but Clouston said he's still likely out until the end of the month ... The annual Sens Skills presented by Metro competition is set for Monday (Family Day in Ontario) at 1 p.m.