Shane Pinto's return to form following shoulder injury elevating Senators' third line

Senators forward Shane Pinto discusses his excitement to get back into game action with the Senators rookie tourney, and discusses how much of a stud Jake Sanderson is, says "you guys will see, his game will take care of itself."

Coaches doodle.

You just know that Senators head D.J. Smith was penciling in line combinations as quickly as general manager Pierre Dorion was bringing in fresh talent in the off-season.

One of those pre-camp line combos Smith penciled in has been a godsend. With lines 1 and 2 more or less cast in ink – Brady Tkachuk-Josh Norris-Drake Batherson and the new line of Alex DeBrincat-Tim Stützle-Claude Giroux oozing skill – it was the third line that was going to be a question mark.

Would young centre Shane Pinto be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that forced him to miss nearly all of last season? And how would he mesh with newly signed free agent winger Tyler Motte? On the right wing, Mathieu Joseph had shown well since being acquired at the trade deadline, but he hadn’t had a chance to play with Pinto or Motte until training camp.

Keeping in mind that this is only pre-season and the opponent most nights is a modest Montreal Canadiens lineup, Pinto’s line has been arguably the most consistent line throughout these first two weeks. Smith is constantly singing their praises.

As I write this, Pinto is tied for the NHL pre-season lead in goals, with four, and points, with seven.

“I think a lot of the credit has to go to Pints, you see how well he’s played,” Smith says. “But also a guy like Motte, who just knows how to play the right way. And then Joe’s got all that speed. So, it is comforting for sure. They’re the line that’s had the most success five-on-five because, you know, they’re playing the right way. So far, they’ve played the right way the most and the longest and they’ve had the most chances.”

As a reward for his hard work and obvious talent, Pinto has had some power play time and is cashing in there as well.

‘Tough year’ sitting out

Pinto, who doesn’t turn 22 until Nov. 12, was highly motivated coming into camp, having been limited to just five games in 2021-22 due to a shoulder injury requiring surgery. That, after impressing the heck out of the organization in last year’s pre-season.

“It was tough for me last year,” Pinto says. “You know, it was a long year for me just rehabbing that whole time and seeing all the boys play. I never got hockey taken away from me like that, but I put a lot of work in in the summer and it’s paying off.

“You’ve got to keep working, but I’m just grateful to be out there again.”

Centre Josh Norris appreciates Pinto’s bounce-back better than most. Norris missed significant time with a shoulder injury that needed surgery following the 2019 world junior championships.

“I’ve been in that spot before and it’s not easy,” Norris says. “I think it was like 10 or 11 months before I got back into the team setting and it’s been longer for him. It’s a tough injury to come back from, to get your timing and confidence. It seems like he’s never had an injury at all, so obviously, he did a great job rehabbing the shoulder and mentally is the hardest part. And he’s doing just fine.”

Norris said that in his own case, it took a while for him to regain his confidence. Pinto, though, has exuded confidence from the moment he checked in as a pro player in the spring of 2021 after leaving the University of North Dakota.

Box checked on Pinto’s return to form. Box checked as well on Motte fitting in beautifully.

Dorion signed him because he wanted some experience to replace the two-way game of Connor Brown, who was traded to Washington. Already, Motte has seen power play and penalty-killing time, without missing a beat.

About his regular linemates, Pinto and Joseph, Motte says they’re great guys to work with.

“We communicate on the ice and off the ice,” Motte says. “We’ve got a good thing going right now and hopefully we continue to build on that.”

Motte delivers a pretty solid scouting assessment of Pinto.

“He’s got a big body, he skates well, he’s got puck skills, and a knack for knowing where he has to be on the ice,” Motte says. “I think his hockey IQ is pretty high. A little inexperienced at the pro level but the way he sees the game and thinks the game, and the way he works, he can make up for that. He’s only going to get better as we go here. He’s a guy I trust as my centreman.”

Back at you, Mr. Motte from Mr. Pinto.

“There’s so many little things he does throughout the game that just makes it so much easier on me,” Pinto says. “He tracks so well. He wins so many battles and is just an easy guy to play with. He’s always working, never stops moving his feet. I honestly love playing with him.”

Lines one and two draw most of the attention for teams facing the Senators.

That suits Line 3 just fine.

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