The Ottawa Senators got off to a rough start this season.
After winning their opener, they earned just one more point over their next nine games (0-8-1).
But Wednesday, when they play host to the Vancouver Canucks, the Senators have a chance to do something they haven’t accomplished since the first week of the season: They can climb out of the North Division cellar.
The Senators (18-27-4, 40 points) pulled within a point of the sixth-place Canucks (19-20-3, 41 points) with a 2-1 victory over Vancouver on Monday night, as Marcus Hogberg made 25 saves and Josh Norris and Drake Batherson scored goals.
Granted, the Canucks have played seven fewer games than the Senators because of an 18-day pause this month because of a COVID-19 outbreak in which 22 players and four staff members tested positive.
Vancouver dropped 10 points behind Montreal for the fourth and final playoff berth from the all-Canadian division with Monday’s loss.
“If we’re going to have any chance of getting in the playoffs, we can’t worry about what Montreal does or any of the other teams,” said Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby, who made 25 saves Monday in place of Thatcher Demko. “We need to believe that we can win every game. In the end, hopefully that’s enough. But right now, it’s moving on to the next game and figuring out how we’re going to get two points there.”
Demko was scheduled to start Monday but came away with a lower-body injury during morning skate.
Wednesday’s game will conclude a four-game, home-and-home series between the teams. The Senators have won two of three thus far and are 4-1-0 overall in their past five games.
“It’s been a blast, not just learning how to win, but learning how to win against a desperate team who needed these points to stay in the playoff race,” said Senators forward Brady Tkachuk, who assisted on both goals Monday. “I think our team is learning so much through this experience. It’s definitely a better atmosphere and more fun when we’re winning.”
Batherson’s goal, his 17th of the season to tie Connor Brown for the team lead, came at 11:41 of the second period. The Canucks turned over the puck behind their own net, with Tkachuk charging into the right-wing corner to track it down. He made a no-look, backhanded pass to Batherson at the top of the right faceoff circle and his quick wrist shot beat Holtby to make it 2-1.
“One of the things people don’t talk enough about with Brady is how strong his stick is,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said of Tkachuk. “He wins a lot of stick battles, he can make plays in traffic, he can pick pucks off and he’s much better on the rush than people give him credit for. They always think of this junkyard dog around the net, but he makes plays all over the ice.”
With the Senators’ goaltending corps wracked with injuries — forward Artem Anisimov donned the pads Saturday in Vancouver as an emergency backup — Hogberg made his first start since April 7 and earned his first win since Feb. 15.
“That’s Hoggy’s best game of the year, for sure,” Smith said. “It’s good for him. He’s a great kid, works hard and it was good to get that under his belt.”
–Field Level Media