Ottawa Senators' strong finish to November shows team headed in right directionSporting News — (Murray Pam)
OTTAWA — Despite closing out November with a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday, the Ottawa Senators had a relatively successful month, especially after playing 16 games in a 28-day span.
Sure, the Senators ended the month mired in a four-game losing skid; however, the team finished 8-8-0, earning victories in five of six outings before their recent slump.
In a season where Ottawa fans are seeking a glimmer of hope, November provided relief for some.
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The Sens' goaltending tandem of Anders Nilsson and Craig Anderson rank 20th league-wide with a 3.06 team goals against average, and they also ranked as high as 14th prior to their 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Friday.
Despite the lopsided decision, the team is on pace to cut its goals against by 50 from the previous season — Ottawa's 301 goals allowed, 3.65 GAA in 2018-19 were a league-worst.
The club's current combined .906 save percentage has the team slotted in a16th-place tie with the Vancouver Canucks. By contrast, the Senators finished with a .897 mark (27th) last season.
Nilsson currently leads the tandem in net with a .917 save percentage. Ultimately though, after allowing seven goals on 35 shots Friday against Minnesota, the six-foot-six Swede slid from eighth to 15th among NHL netminders.
Sens fans were also bestowed with a glimpse of the future on the final night of November when 25-year-old netminder Marcus Hogberg was recalled from Ottawa's AHL-affiliate Belleville and stopped 24 of 26 Flames’ shots on Saturday. He was filling in for Anderson who suffered what head coach D.J. Smith called a “minor tweak."
The veteran goaltender is traveling with the team in the midst of their five-game road trip and will likely return to action before returning home to face the Boston Bruins December 9.
A saving grace for the Senators this season has been their shorthanded player. Assistant coach Jack Capuano has brought along his expertise to a penalty kill unit which ranks 18th in the NHL (82.5 percent). Prior to Saturday's matchup with Calgary, the team actually ranked 13th on the PK, but the Flames managed one goal on three power-play attempts. Still, with five clubs within 1.5 percent of each other, rankings vary on a nightly basis.
The Senators’ PK unit closed out November giving up three goals on 30 power-play opportunities, a 90 percent success rate.
Connor Brown and Jean-Gabriel Pageau lead all Senators’ forwards in shorthanded ice time. Brown’s 3:01 average TOI on the kill unit ranks third among all NHL forwards, while his total of 81:18 tops all forwards. This serves as a sign, though, that the team needs to stay out of the box.
Defenseman Ron Hainsey sits fourth in shorthanded ice time — logging a total of 92:24 — and is ninth among all d-men, averaging 3:25 minutes while shorthanded.
Pageau, Pageau, Pageau
Jean-Gabriel Pageau had a November to remember in the annals of Senators’ history. His 11 goals during the month equaled Bob Kudelski’s total in 1993. Only Marian Hossa (12 in 2002) and Daniel Alfredsson (13 in 2005) had better November goal-scoring numbers.
Tied with Bruins’ Brad Marchand and Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Pageau’s 11 goals put him behind only Marchand’s teammate David Pasternak (12) and Oilers’ Connor McDavid (13) for the lead in November.
The 27-year old’s highlight came on Nov. 13 in New Jersey, when Pageau notched a hat trick in a 4-2 win over the Devils. Ottawa's victory kickstarted the team to winning five of six games and came on the throes of an 8-2 loss in Carolina.
A pending unrestricted free agent, Pageau’s scoring exploits aren’t making Senators’ General Manager Pierre Dorion’s decision an easy one. Pageau has not only proven himself as a dependable centre but has a penchant for turning it up a notch come playoff time. The New York Rangers witnessed this firsthand in 2017 when the Ottawa resident posted a four-goal performance, including a double-overtime game winner.
Teams are already taking note of the Senators' alternate captain, and Dorion is likely in a position to acquire a high draft pick plus a prospect in a trade. However, Pageau’s leadership qualities and ability to fill a role on both sides of the puck is something a growing club requires.
Right now, Dorion is in a no-win position. A deal may benefit the Senators long-term but may draw the ire of some of its fan base, by trading another fan favourite.
As for Pageau himself, there’s no doubt he wants to remain with the club. Having spent the majority of his life in the city or on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, he said as much in a Sporting News Q&A prior to the season.
“I'm an Ottawa Senator. This is where my career started. This is the team that showed confidence in me. I'm happy here. I love representing the Senators. Every time I wear the logo, I take pride,” told Sporting News in late August. “Ottawa is close to people I love, my wife, my family, my friends. I've got to meet so many people through the years. Like I said I'm happy here. My main focus isn't about the contract. It's really about the team - how we're going to approach and start this year the right way.”