Senators' Gustavsson next man up in net amid 'unbelievable' run of injuries

DJ Smith talked about the Senators handling the constant travel and jumping around different time zones as they play in the North Division.

Considering the condensed schedule, the Ottawa Senators have had a relatively healthy roster of forwards and defencemen.

As for their goaltenders, that is a different story — slot it somewhere between Greek tragedy and a Who's On First comedy skit.

It is beginning to appear that general manager Pierre Dorion has visions of goaltending disasters before they happen. On Wednesday afternoon, he picked up Anton Forsberg on waivers from the Winnipeg Jets and within hours, the Senators starter against Vancouver, Joey Daccord, went down with an apparent leg injury in the third period of a home game against the Canucks.

Daccord had just recorded his first career NHL victory Sunday vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs, when he came on in emergency relief of No. 1 goalie Matt Murray, injured during the warmup. Now, here was Filip Gustavsson making his NHL debut in relief of the fallen Daccord.

Oh, and did we mention that Murray’s original backup, Marcus Hogberg, is also out with a lower-body injury? That makes the 22-year-old Gustavsson a “fourth-stringer.” And that fourth-stringer kept the Senators in the game Wednesday, stopping all eight Canucks shots he faced in regulation and overtime, and three straight shootout attempts before Adam Gaudette beat him for the game-winner.

“It was kind of perfect, you don’t have time to think about it,” Gustavsson said of his surprise NHL appearance. “Of course, I was very nervous but after the first shot, you’re straight into the game and you do what you’ve done for the past 15 years.

“I was still nervous for the rest of the game, kind of shaking in my legs, but I just tried to play like I did in the AHL and when I was back in Sweden this year. It felt great. We got the one point and I’m happy with that.”

Just adding to the bizarro world of Sens goaltending, Gustavsson actually skated to the bench at one point with what looked like a blocker-hand injury.

“It’s kind of funny, when I’m getting stressed, I can’t get blood into my hand,” Gustavsson said. “So, like, I couldn’t feel my right fingers at all, so we had to get a heat pad on it. So I could get blood there and play the puck for the first couple of minutes. And then it was kind of normal after that.”

When Daccord left the game, Kevin Mandolese, a 20-year-old with one AHL game to his name, quickly got dressed to back up Gustavsson.

Head coach D. J. Smith was left shaking his head.

“It’s an unbelievable turn of events that you have this many goalies out at one time,” Smith said post-game. “Thank God Pierre picked up Forsberg.

“Maybe a week ago, you looked at the depth chart and how far you are (in Gustavsson’s case) and the next thing you know you're in there,” Smith said. “I think it’s a lesson to everyone. You’ve got to be ready because you never know when your chance comes.”

Gustavsson was still grinning a day later, telling reporters on Zoom how he called his parents in Sweden to wake them up in the middle of the night with the news that he played for the Senators in a game.

“They got a little excited,” Gustavsson said. “They probably woke up and watched the game on replay.”

Gustavsson was scheduled to start for the B-Sens against the Toronto Marlies on Friday. Scratch that idea. He will remain with Ottawa to practice with the Senators ahead of their next game vs. the Calgary Flames on Monday. Everything points toward a Gustavsson start.

“If it’s Gus, I thought he looked great again today in practice,” Smith said. “I thought he came in in a pressure situation (versus Vancouver), to do what he did I wouldn’t be afraid to put him in again.”

On the injury front, Smith said Daccord will be “out for a bit” although the extent of his injury isn’t fully known. He appeared to twist his leg when his skate got caught in the ice as he tried to push across the crease. Daccord actually made a save while lying on the ice hurt.

Murray appears to be “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury. Hogberg is improving but there is no set date for his return.

“Hogberg is getting much closer, he’s skating,” Smith said. “I don’t know what per cent he is at but he is certainly an option here, closely.”

Goaltender health was a story before the season even began, as the Senators had to put Anders Nilsson on long term injury reserve with concussion issues. Nilsson was then traded to Tampa Bay as part of the deal that brought Cedric Paquette and Braydon Coburn to Ottawa.

Now Forsberg joins the fray, to help out prospects Gustavsson and Mandolese.

Winger Ryan Dzingel, who has scored four goals in eight games since returning to the Senators via trade from the Carolina Hurricanes, is impressed by the quality of Ottawa’s emergency goalie reserves.

“Our organization has done very well with goaltenders in the pipeline,” Dzingel said. “It’s ridiculous, we have guys coming in that are playing so well. And guys that aren’t even at practice getting called up and coming right into games. It’s nice to see. A lot of big, athletic goalies we have.

“In this league, everyone is fired up to get their opportunity. This year it’s been great for a lot of people to get a chance to prove themselves. You don’t want to see people get injured but that’s how I got in this league. I caught a break with an injury to a guy on the left side and I never looked back.”

‘Suitcase’ Forsberg

By the nature of their profession, goaltenders are known to be well-travelled, going back to the days of Gary "Suitcase" Smith in the 1960s and ‘70s.

At 28, Forsberg has been getting around, especially during this pandemic season. Three times he has been claimed off waivers, meaning some team is always considering him. After signing with Edmonton in the off-season and attending the Oilers training camp, Forsberg was first claimed by the Hurricanes on Jan. 12 and then by the Winnipeg Jets three days later.

Because he is coming into Ottawa from out of province, Forsberg will have to quarantine for a week and pass COVID-19 tests before he can join the Senators at practice.

The Senators play three home games next week, Monday and Wednesday vs. the Calgary Flames and Thursday against the Maple Leafs. Whether Forsberg will be available for the Toronto game is unclear. Smith said he will find out from Dorion when Forsberg can join the club. Chances are he will need some days of practice before he can start.

“On account of recent injuries, Anton’s acquisition provides us with depth and stability at the goaltending position,” Dorion said in a statement. “He's a goaltender who’s athletic and positionally sound. His addition should prove beneficial for us.”

A 6-2, 176-pound native of Härnösand, Sweden, Forsberg was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the seventh round of the 2011 draft. He has played 48 career NHL games with Columbus, the Chicago Blackhawks and Hurricanes. His career stat line: 12-25-4 with a 3.22 goals-against and .901 save percentage.

Forsberg won’t be expected to be a saviour, but at least provides some experience while Murray, Daccord and Hogberg heal.

Brannstrom will play in AHL

Defenceman Erik Brannstrom, 21, who hasn’t played for the Senators since the March 10 loss in Edmonton, has been re-assigned to Belleville and is expected to play for the B-Sens on Friday against the Marlies. Centre Matthew Peca was also sent down to Belleville (although the team is playing and practising in Ottawa due to provincial health restrictions).

“Yes, he will play for Belleville,” Smith said, when asked about Brannstrom. “We don't play a game for four days. There’s no point in him sitting around and practising when he can play games. He will be able to go down there and play big minutes and Pierre will re-evaluate after that. I think it’s a good opportunity for him.”

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