A hockey staffer told me early in the season that the perfect scenario for the Detroit Red Wings would be to lose every game, by a single goal.
The point of the theory: Be competitive, don’t get blown out and therefore discouraged, but the big picture is paramount. In a rebuild, those high draft picks in 2020 from a low finish in 2019-20 are going to be vital to the future of the team.
The Ottawa Senators are in the same boat. They aren’t playing for this season, but for some future season down the road, when some of their current young players, and others not yet drafted or signed, become part of a highly competitive club two to three years down the road.
Two weeks ago, we speculated, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, that the Senators might have been “too good for their own good,” winning seven out of nine games between Nov. 7 and Nov. 22. Not to worry. They followed that up with a five-game losing skid, which ended rather fashionably with a 5-2 victory over Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place.
This was the perfect time to brighten the mood on a lengthy five-game road trip, considering the Senators have a couple of days off before ending the trip in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon.
Goaltender Craig Anderson continued his mastery over the Oilers at Rogers Place – he is 4-0 there — and the Senators extended their perplexing streak in Edmonton, where they have won 12 of their past 14 games.
Rounding out the fun for the visitors, Edmonton native Tyler Ennis had a goal and two assists. Just as he might have scripted it.
Never mind that the Oilers nearly ran the Senators out of the rink in the first period, outshooting them 10-4. Anderson and his goalposts – both of them – held the hosts to a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes and overtook the Oil with a couple of quick goals in the second period.
As a result of the victory, Ottawa improved to 12-16-1 for 25 points in 29 games. That has them third last in the Eastern Conference and fourth last overall. In other words, all according to plan. It doesn’t look like anyone is “catching” Detroit for last overall with their 17 measly points with a minus-56 goal differential.
BRANNSTROM BACK TO BELLEVILLE
If we agree this season is more about the development of young players than it is about wins and losses, the biggest news of the week relates to two of Ottawa’s most high-profile prospects, Erik Brannstrom and Logan Brown.
On Thursday, Brannstrom was finally sent down to AHL Belleville, after being made a healthy scratch Wednesday for the second time this season. The 20-year-old defenceman, expected to be an offensive force once he finds his game, has yet to score a goal in 23 games and has chipped in two assists. Brannstrom has averaged just 13:35 in time on ice and clearly needs to work on his game while playing in all situations with the B-Sens.
Of greater concern is the situation with Brown. Ottawa’s 11th overall draft pick in 2011, the six-foot-six centre has been pencilled in by some observers to be the Senators No. 1 centre of the future. In fact, he has often played on the top line with Brady Tkachuk and Anthony Duclair, but was dropped from there quickly in Edmonton and wound up with just 5:28 of ice time as head coach D.J. Smith opted to more or less run with three lines after winger Nick Paul got injured in the first period (neck strain).
Considering Brown was made a healthy scratch against the Calgary Flames on Saturday, after going minus-two in 10:46 of ice time against the Minnesota Wild on Friday (a 7-2 loss), he’s not exactly trending upwards.
For context, it’s important to remember that at the start of the season, with Brown in Belleville for his second professional year, his agent Adam Scott made a public statement that Brown has had to “grind and claw and work his tail off for every morsel of opportunity that he’s been provided.”
The inference was that Brown was being buried by then-head coach Guy Boucher, and the hope was expressed that things might be different under Smith, a Windsor native who saw Brown play for the OHL Spitfires from 2014-17.
Brown did get recalled by the Senators in late October due to injuries to Colin White and Artem Anisimov and has now appeared in 14 games, recording one goal and five assists. He has averaged 12:35 of ice time while getting opportunities on the power play, the NHL’s worst unit.
What now? Though Brown survived the demotion that befell Brannstrom this week, he is going to have to figure out his game or else suffer a similar fate.
With his skill set, Brown is not a player who can drop down in the lineup and provide fourth line energy. He needs to be in the top six, but has to produce in order to stay there. At the moment, these are lean times.
At Friday’s practice in Philadelphia, Brown was centre on a fourth line with J.C. Beaudin and Jonathan Davidsson. Brown played on a stronger line than that in Belleville.