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Game Day 5: Sens vs Capitals - Season Preview

by Craig Medaglia @craigmedaglia / Ottawa Senators

The Sens start the year looking to build off a strong playoff push that saw them a just one shot away from a visit to the Stanley Cup Final last June. On the eve of a new season, we take a look at five of the stories at play for 2017-18 in Ottawa.

 

1. Up front

Not a lot of changes to the Sens forward group this season as the team will see the return of their top 9 scoring forwards from last year. Mike Hoffman's career-high 61 points (26 goals, 35 assists) lead the way up front for the Senators and the 27-year old left winger has seen his point totals grow every season in the NHL while top centre Kyle Turris paced the team in goals with a career-best 27.

While his regular season didn't go as planned last year, Bobby Ryan caught fire in the playoffs registering 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 19 games and lead all Sens forwards in scoring during their run to the Eastern Conference Final.

"I wouldn't say I've placed any more pressure on myself," said Ryan about his mindset going into this season. "I've identified that I want to be more consistent and I don't want to go through those lulls where I have to answer questions about why I'm not scoring or what not. I want to be at the net and I think I got a little better by the end of the year."

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Ryan roofs game-winning goal in OT

Ryan also spoke about how the beginning of a new season provides players with the ability to start fresh from a mental standpoint, something he hopes to do as another year gets ready to start up.

"You feel like last season, good or bad, is a wash and you get to kind of re-write the narrative a little bit," said Ryan at the conclusion of training camp. "I'm looking forward to doing that and hopefully being the player I was in the playoffs throughout the season."

One new addition up front for the Senators is veteran Nate Thompson who may be a new face to many Sens fans but definitely not the coach. Thompson played under head coach Guy Boucher for a pair of seasons in Tampa Bay and feels that previous experience has made adapting to his new team a lot more comfortable.

"Playing for Guy in the past and knowing his system made for an easier transition for me," said Thompson about his bench boss. "Now that training camp is over it's just about going out there and playing hockey."

Thompson has skated in 550 NHL games for 4 different teams (BOS, NYI, TBL and ANA) but according to him, opening night is still something special. 

"There's always a little bit of emotion and nerves when you play your first game for a team but all good stuff of course."


2. On the back end

The place to start when talking about the Sens defence corps is obviously the captain. Karlsson lead the Senators offensively last season with 71 points (17 goals, 54 assists) but was arguably even better in the post-season notching 18 points (2 goals, 16 assists) in 19 games on a busted ankle (more on that below).

Absent from the blueline this season is Marc Methot who was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft before being flipped to the Dallas Stars over the summer and as a result, the Sens brought in two-time Stanley Cup champion Johnny Oduya to help bolster their blue line. Oduya likely won't be expected to replace Methot's role but he's up for the task of trying to help this young group of defencemen take the next step.

"I look at it as a good challenge and as you progress you get more and more comfortable," said Oduya after a team skate. "I'm looking to improve with them and it's not always going to be a smooth ride either way because there will always be ups and downs."

A veteran of nearly 800 NHL games, Oduya found the transition to his new team and easy one so far.

"I feel quite at home to be honest with you," said the 36-year old Swedish defenceman about Ottawa. "It's always a transition but the players and the people around the organization are very good at making you feel welcome here."

The Sens locked up another pillar on defence this morning as it was announced that Mark Borowiecki had agreed to a two-year extension with the team with an average annual value of $1.2 million.

"Everyone says that if you work hard, good things will come to you," the Ottawa native said earlier today. "Well when you're in the trenches in minors putting in your time and it seems like you're never going to get called up it's hard to hear that."

"I don't take anything for granted and I'm appreciative of everything I've been given here."

Video: Oct. 5: Sens vs. Capitals - Borowiecki Pre-game


3. Between the pipes

Goaltending was a strength for the Senators last season with the tandem of Craig Anderson and Mike Condon combining for 44 wins and 10 shutouts. Management rewarded the pair with new contracts recently locking up duo for the next 3 seasons.

"When you don't have goaltending, you're always looking for it and when you have it sometimes you don't appreciate it." Dorion relayed to the media after extending Craig Anderson for two seasons. "In our case, we really appreciate having both guys under contract for the next three years."

"We all feel that the goaltending position is the most important position on your team," Dorion continued. "Having a 1A and a 1B...there's nothing wrong with that."

Anderson missed extended portions of last season to be with his wife Nicholle during her cancer treatment but found that his time away from the sport only strengthened his passion for it.

"By being away from the game last season and watching the guys on TV just created more desire to play," said Anderson. "You know when it's time and I feel very strong that I've got lots of time left."

Anderson, who turned 36 in May, spent portions of the off-season reflecting back on a pretty turbulent 12 months but was adamant that he never considered stepping away from hockey.

"I still love the game, I still want to come and compete on a daily basis and I feel that that fire is still very strong." 

Video: Sept 29: Craig Anderson Contract Media

 

4. A pair of prospects make the cut

In a bit of a surprise, two teenagers find themselves on the Sens' opening night roster this year. Both Logan Brown and Alex Formenton impressed over the past 3-4 months and have earned their spot on the team to this point.

Boucher was sure to temper expectations this week regarding Brown and Formenton's deployment as the season starts up and the games begin to matter.

"I can't tell you what they will be able to manage because one is 19 and the other is 18," said the coach of his young forwards. "One has a lot of speed and one has great hockey sense. They're two different types of players."

The coach did confirm that Brown would make his NHL debut in tonight's home opener after skating on a line with Ryan Dzingel and Alex Burrows the past few days and Brown will have an updated look that's a bit of an homage to his father, former NHLer Jeff Brown.

"My dad wore #21 when he played in the NHL," said Brown. "I've worn that number my whole life so if I can get into an NHL game with it that'd be pretty cool."

Brown had been looking to make the switch for quite some time but wanted to wait until the time was right.

 "I wasn't going to ask during the middle of training camp so I just asked our equipment manager earlier this week if it was a big deal to change it and he said it wasn't."

Instagram from @senators: I spy a new number for @loganbrown21


5. Injuries

We touched on Karlsson's injury above and have tracked his recovery all summer but it appears we may be getting closer to the captain's return. While he has been ruled out for tonight's home opener, Karlsson has rejoined the team for skates and the indications are he seems to be responding well. Dorion shared with the media that he remains hopeful that Karlsson could return for Saturday's home game against the Red Wings but until that news is confirmed, Karlsson continues to prep for his eventual season debut.

"It's nice to be able to practice with the team again," said Karlsson earlier this week. "It's a big step to take part in most of the drills and to get my timing back. Overall it feels pretty good."

While Sens fans wait for the news of Karlsson's impending return to action, Boucher announced that centre Derick Brassard will be in the line-up tonight against Washington. Brassard underwent off-season shoulder surgery back in June and early projections for his recovery were that he would most likely miss the start of the regular season but he received word yesterday from his doctors that he'd be good to go for Game #1.

"It's just a matter of getting my timing back out there," Brassard relayed to the media this week. "I've been getting all the practices, bag skates and I've worked pretty hard with our strength coach in the gym but there's nothing like on-ice, game shape."

The Sens are starting the season short a pair of forwards in Colin White and Clarke MacArthur. White broke his wrist blocking a shot during the pre-season and is expected to be healed sometime in November.

"He's devastated," said Pierre Dorion about White reaction to the injury. "He felt with some of our injuries up front that there was a spot there, or a few spots, and now obviously he won't start the year with us."

As a result, White will begin the season on IR.

The news on MacArthur isn't as clear. After reporting to training camp in mid-September, MacArthur left on Day #1 after failing his medical test.

"After speaking with our doctors, Clarke failed his medical," Dorion stated in an impromptu media scrum. "We have to think about the person first here and that's an obligation we have as an organization."

MacArthur missed almost the entire regular season last year before returning in April to help the Sens during their push to the Conference Finals but has been placed on injured non-roster to start the season.

Video: Sept 14: Pierre Dorion

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