For the last few weeks, there has been a glaring hole in top six Ottawa Senators forwards and it looks like this week, that whole will be filled by a healthy Brady Tkachuk. Since Tkachuk went down with a leg injury last month, the Senators have been struggling as they have gone 2-4-2 since his setback occurred in a game against the Dallas Stars on the 15th of October.
With Tkachuk returning to the lineup, it really could be the spark the team needs right now after a tough weekend that ends with back-to-back losses. The first occurred on Saturday with an ugly 9-2 loss against the Buffalo Sabres which was followed by an upsetting OT loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday where the Senators lost the lead with less than a minute to go in the third.
Other than Tkachuk’s first NHL game in Boston where he played in front of more than 60 family members and friends, he had been the Senators best player up front by far. The Senators have really missed his net presence as well as his work down low on the 5 on 5.
As a result of the empty gap, head coach Guy Boucher has loaded up a top line consisting of Ryan Dzingel, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone since Tkachuk has been out of the lineup to heal and rest. It will be interesting to see if Boucher goes back to a Tkachuck – Teirney – Stone line that was very successful when they played together prior to. It would also get a line of Dzingel, Duchene and Colin White back together that looked very good as well.
This in my mind is the Senators optimal top six going forward while healthy. I also think that when Filip Chlapik is healthy, he should be coming up to Ottawa to fill the third line center role while Zach Smith is out recovering from a facial fracture.
It seems like the jump and emotion the Sens played within the first eight games is now gone. The team isn’t playing as free as they were before and it also seems like when playing with a lead that Guy Boucher has gone back to his defensive system that the Sens have played under in the past.
The players had a players only meeting after the 4-3 Overtime loss to Tampa and it sounded like the message was to not be tentative while having the lead and keep playing like the game was 0-0 when having a lead on the opponent. Assistant Captain Matt Duchene sounded very discouraged after the game, mentioning that they have kind of been getting whipped in the 3rd period against opponents as of late and that they need to play a full 60 minutes night in and night out in order for them to be a competitive team this year.
We knew coming into this year that it could be a roller coster ride for Sens fans and so far it sure has been something quite similar if not exact. There are some games where the Senators have to go toe-to-toe with their opponent while also having a ton of jump and forechecking hard. In other matches, they get skated out of the building and give up chance after chance, all while relying heavily on veteran goaltender Craig Anderson.
The Senators have a busy week playing four games in six nights, starting off on Tuesday night against John Hynes and the New Jersey Devils who have struggled on the road so far to start the season. Following that contest, the Senators close out a three-game home stand on Thursday with a match against the Vegas Golden Knights before rounding off the week with road games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
As for the way it’s looking now, it seems likely that Craig Anderson will start the first three games this week while 35-year-old netminder Mike McKeena will finish it off, getting the start in Sunrise, Florida.
The Senators need a successful week with about six points in these four games to help them move up in the standings and get closer to that wildcard playoff spot which they held promptly when Tkachuk was in the lineup on a daily basis.
The Senators look to get back to their winning ways on Tuesday night when they play host to Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata. Pre-game coverage gets underway at 6:30 while the puck drops is scheduled to drop at 7:00pmET. The Game can be seen on TSN 5 and TVA Sports, meanwhile, it can be heard on TSN 1200.