GARRIOCH: After long hiatus, Ottawa senators need consistency to return to respectability

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The road back to respectability began Monday night in Denver.

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The six-day break in the schedule allowed by the NHL to call a halt to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Ottawa Senators locker room officially came to an end when the club canceled a four-game, six-day road trip opened up against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena.

With eight out of ten players on the COVID-19 protocol, the senators have a lot of work ahead of them if they are to restore the ship and make their way back to the playoffs in the East. The club still have 67 games to go after three games have been postponed and they face a huge climb with a 4-10-1 record.

The good news is that the NHL deemed it appropriate to close the Senators after a 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames at the Canadian Tire Center last Sunday night when winger Drake Batherson became the 10th player to enter protocol and the club had only nine healthy ones. players had left in the organization.

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The Senators are not where anyone expected them to 15 games into the season, but they hope the unscheduled break will give them a chance to reset. The club had 90 minutes of skating at home on Saturday, 30 minutes of skating on Sunday and a quick morning spin on Monday.

Coach DJ Smith talked a lot on Sunday, but he wanted to see exactly where the senators are on this trip as the club is poised to make it to the quarters next week.

“The boys have been trying their best to get back into shape,” center Josh Norris told reporters Monday before the game in Denver. “We tried to use the skates as best we could and now we’re just trying to get back together as a group.

“To be honest, the break was good for us to mentally reset a bit and refocus. We want to get out of this and have a better start to this new season.”

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The senators will pay for it on this trip with a heavy schedule. They take on the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night and conclude their tour of the Golden State with a visit to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday and Saturday to conclude this trip against the Los Angeles Kings.

At this time, we don’t know when last Thursday’s two home games against the Nashville Predators and Saturday’s visit by the New York Rangers will take place. The New Jersey Devils road game at the Prudential Center rescheduled for December 6 at 7 p.m.

The folks scheduling at NHL headquarters are working with the senators to see where those home games fit in, and the club hopes to hear soon when they’ll be played. Getting the Rangers here might be a little easier than the Predators, since they’re in the west.

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We don’t really know what the Senators would look like going into this game against the Avs because of the long break.

Six of the eight players – Austin Watson, Dylan Gambrell, Josh Brown, Victor Mete, Alex Formenton and Connor Brown – returned to the lineup. Defender Nikita Zaitsev is expected to join the San Jose club in time to play on this trip, with Drake Batherson not returning until the club returns home on December 1.

The decision was made to keep 34-year-old defender Nick Holden out for one more game and goalkeeper Matt Murray was not on the ice in Denver.

That meant that goalkeeper Filip Gustavsson made the start against the Avs. He went into the game with a 3-3-1 record in seven starts this season and had collected seven of the nine points the Senators collected. There was no update on Murray, but the club was expected to go with Gus The Bus.

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He has given the Senators a chance to win in every game he has played. You now get the sense that although the club gave Murray every chance to get the net, he suffered from injuries and then struggled with COVID-19 which didn’t help him find consistency.

You can’t do anything about either situation, but you have to remember that the senators want to see if Gustavsson can carry the ball. The Senators played in the North Division last season, he will have faced many of these teams and he was solid with 28 stops in a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh at home last Saturday.

For many of the Senators, this will be their first travel destination, such as Denver and Los Angeles.

People like Norris, Formenton and Tim Stuetzle have never taken this journey before. They were looking forward to the chance to play at the Ball Arena on Monday or make a stop at the Shark Tank on Wednesday.

“It’s fun. This is my first time going to other cities and experiencing what the NHL is all about,” said Norris. “Last year all Canadian cities were, which was great, but after a while it gets old. We’re excited to get into the US and see what these markets are all about. It is certainly exciting.”

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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