On Sunday, when the fathers of Ottawa Senators players pack up from a special week with their sons, the team will have reached the one-third mark of the regular season.
Like the week itself, the season has had its fun, its heartache and strives to end on a high note.
For a while on Thursday night in Dallas, it felt as though the dads were willing their kids to come back against the Stars. Down two goals early – the second one a stinker on goaltender Anton Forsberg – Ottawa showed a lot of grit in bouncing back. The Sens held a 3-2 lead for most of the third period, until a screenshot from Nils Lundkvist leaked through Forsberg’s pads to send the game to overtime.
Until then, the dads, wearing the jerseys of their sons, high-fived rallying goals scored by Derick Brassard, Thomas Chabot (his third in three games) and Travis Hamonic. And they watched in disappointment in extra time as Tyler Seguin ended a long sequence with a goal, in all alone with 29 seconds left in OT. A kick in the gut, to be sure. A 4-3 loss and a point for their effort, which should have been two.
“We really left it all out there, we could have folded there after the first two goals but we persevered,” said captain Brady Tkachuk, who once again led the way with his emotional play. “We faced adversity early but got better because of it. And I think that’s all the lessons we’ve learned this year. Whenever we play our game, teams have a tough time playing with us.”
This is exactly right. Following two relatively quick goals from defenceman Miro Heiskanen, the Senators capitalized on a Stars giveaway to get a Brassard goal, off a smart pass from Drake Batherson. And from that point through the end of the second period, Ottawa was the better team. The Stars barely had room to turn around without a Sens checker in their way.
Tkachuk was asked how it feels to hound an opponent into the ice, as the visitors did for long stretches in this one.
“It’s awesome, it’s winning hockey,” Tkachuk said. “When we play the way we need to play, we dictate the game.”
Dallas got a bounce to tie it and won in the crapshoot of overtime, but this was one of those nights the Senators deserved a better fate.
And so the question rises: why can’t the Senators play like this all the time? Or at least, more often.
Their inconsistency has been a constant through 26 games. The team that beat the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks last weekend was a distant stranger to the club that fell 5-2 to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, a listless effort on home ice.
On those nights the Senators do have it, too many have ended like this in disappointment, because of a missed chance here and a soft goal there.
Forsberg, give him credit, also rebounded from his tough start to make some spectacular saves. At least two that got by him, though, needed to be stopped.
It’s the story of the season at the one-third mark. About a third of the time, Ottawa is not in the game. Another third they could have won but didn’t. And roughly one-third of their games end in joy, with victories.
Add it all up and you have the Senators’ 10-14-2 record. At 22 points, only Columbus, Arizona, Chicago, San Jose and Anaheim are below them in the NHL standings.
This is not the company Ottawa expected to keep in this season of expected contention in the Atlantic Division. No one thought the Senators were going to lead the way in this division, but they were supposed to be in the middle of it. In the middle of the action. Not on the outside looking in.
As always, there are bright spots. Foremost among these, lately, the play and production of Chabot since his reset from a concussion in mid-November has been startling.
Ottawa’s perennial leader in minutes played is suddenly looking like that 14-goal, 55-point guy from 2018-19, when it was thought Chabot was going to be an offensive defenceman. With six goals and 15 points in just 21 games played, Chabot is regaining confidence in his point shot, which is adding to the Senators threats on the power play.
Unfortunately for Ottawa, the Stars defence shut down three power play opportunities for the Senators on Thursday – the first three man advantages of the game. A goal on any of those chances could have made the difference.
And so it is onward to Tennessee for a matinee date with the Nashville Predators.
Expect the dads to be hurtin’ just a little with this day game after a night in Music City, where the party comes to you.
One last chance for the sons of the fathers to get a win for their kin who have traveled from far and wide to experience NHL life on the ground and in the air.
I expect the Senators to bring their ‘A’ game to this one. Can they finish this dad trip with a flourish?