OTTAWA — With so much going wrong with the Ottawa Senators, its’s easy to overlook what’s going right.
Sitting seven points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild card in the east the Senators (32-30-8) are most likely not going to make the playoffs, and as a result a number of changes could take place in the off-season.
While much was expected from Stone after the 64-point season he had last year, when he was a finalist for the Calder Cup as the NHL’s top rookie, no one could have predicted Smith becoming an offensive threat or Pageau becoming the team’s top centre.
“It’s funny how it goes in this game,” said Senators coach Dave Cameron. “If we didn’t have the injuries we had that line never would have probably been put together.”
The three lined up together for the first time Feb. 2 in a 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins where Stone and Pageau each scored.
Since that game the three have combined for 62 points. Smith (12 goals, seven assists), Stone (11 goals, 13 assists) and Pageau (five goals, 14 assists) have carried the Senators, who have posted a less than impressive 9-9-2 record through that stretch.
Smith is riding a five-game goal streak and has already set a career high with 21 goals.
Strangely enough Smith has found his scoring touch as a left-winger, a move he originally resisted having played centre for most of his seven-year NHL career.
“I had mentioned it to (general manager Bryan Murray) at the end of last year,” said Smith. “I didn’t have very much success playing at the wing and found it a pretty tough transition especially playing centre my whole career. I think it definitely turned a corner playing on a wing. It’s been a lot easier transition playing with Pageau.”
Pageau believes Smith’s experience at centre has been a tremendous benefit to the line. The two understand one another’s role and Pageau knows should he get in trouble Smith will usually anticipate where the puck is going. He also says Stone is a great communicator on the ice and the three just seem to have found some natural chemistry.
“I’m sure our success is a little surprising,” said Pageau. “Smith and I are similar players, we try to work hard and keep things simple. Stone makes whoever he plays with better and we just want to do our best to help the team win. I think as a line we try to think defence first and then attack offensively, but it’s been great to be able to contribute offensively as much as we have.”
Pageau moved up the depth chart as a result of Kyle Turris struggling with an injury. Prior to Feb. 2 Pageau averaged 15:47 minutes of ice, whereas now he plays an average of 18:10.
“It’s great to know the coaches have confidence in us and I really appreciate that they’ve believed in us,” said Pageau. “We’ll make mistakes sometimes, and I’m sure we’ll have more, but the fact they’ve kept us together despite those mistakes just gives us more confidence.”
Stone rose to prominence last season and was expected to produce offensively, but struggled to find consistency earlier this season. The past six weeks Stone has played his best hockey, much as he did last year down the stretch.
“I had the start to the season I wanted, it was that stretch in January where I was very poor,” said Stone. “I couldn’t seem to get anything going, I couldn’t seem to find chemistry with anyone. I was really hurting our team through that three-week span and now I’m back at it and happy with the way I’m playing now.”
Notes: Lineup decisions will be made following Tuesday morning’s skate as the Senators host the Minnesota Wild. Clarke MacArthur continues working towards returning to the lineup from post concussion syndrome and remains hopeful that he will be cleared to play in at least four of the Senators last 12 games.