Breaking News

As Senators chase wild card, journey now a massive challenge after Talbot news

Player ejections. Frayed nerves. An attempted attack by an irate captain on a mouthy goaltender. Gloves tossed in anger down the corridor.

Hey, the Ottawa Senators wanted to play “meaningful hockey” in March.

Welcome to that world, everyone. Caution – it ain’t always pretty.

Last week, it was all fun and games around the nation’s capital with the Senators riding the wave of a five-game winning streak. They fairly rolled over the Detroit Red Wings, twice, and then beat the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden before crushing Columbus back in Ottawa. All of this after a victory at the Bell Centre against Les Habitants on Feb. 25 got things started.

Before the game in New York, the Senators had acquired defenceman Jakob Chychrun, aka the Last Piece of the Puzzle. And so, during the Pride Night celebrations and love-in for Chychrun at the Canadian Tire Centre, the Blue Jackets played their part and got waxed.

Look out – the wild-card berths were close enough to touch, and the Senators left for a five-game road trip with so much wind in their sails they could have coasted to Chicago without an aircraft.

Pity the poor Blackhawks, given the state of Ottawa’s hot streak.

Of course, if sports were that predictable, they wouldn’t be worth watching, except to roll in the dough fans would be raking in from their bets. “Lock it in!” was an expression I saw in reference to a pre-game handicap of the Sens-Hawks on Monday.

That the “sure thing” turned into a 5-0 Chicago-lottery-team laugher was a humble lesson for all involved, from bettors to fans to the Senators players on the ice.

“I guess we took them lightly,” said Senators captain Brady Tkachuk, who tried to light a fire under his team in the late going, hoping a few embers will accompany the team to Seattle, where the Sens face the Kraken on Thursday.

“I guess we forgot that’s where we were a couple of years ago.”

That was a reference to the rebuilding Blackhawks.

Had they beaten Chicago, the Sens could have pulled within one point of a wild-card spot, but the loss to the ‘Hawks combined with the results of Tuesday’s games has Ottawa five and six points behind the Penguins and Islanders, respectively.

But should we really be surprised at the sudden turn of events? The Sens aren’t the only team with big hopes running into unexpected losses on a given night. Even weak teams have good players, hungry to stay in the league, taking their points and moral victories as they come.

You knew it couldn’t be this easy, just rolling through March and on into the playoffs. This stretch drive could come down to the final days of the season, and that’s if the Senators survive this western swing before returning east for more tough games, home and away.

Staying healthy is a key part of the equation, and so the first blow the Senators received on Monday was not the shot by Chicago’s Philipp Kurashev that trickled in off the glove of Mads Sogaard. The first blow was the news that goaltender Cam Talbot would not be able to start the game because of an injury related to a shot he received during the Columbus game. A “lower-body” injury.

Not only did Sogaard, 22, have to start a game he thought he would be observing, Belleville Senators goaltender Kevin Mandolese had to be flown in to join the game in progress.

As well as those two kids – Sogaard and Mandolese – have played with Anton Forsberg out for the season and Talbot having recurring injury issues, the Senators were counting on the veteran Talbot to be healthy and available.

It’s the reason general manager Pierre Dorion didn’t trade Talbot for a draft pick at the deadline. He is needed here to be the No. 1 guy, and provide support to Sogaard, who has all of nine NHL games worth of experience. The 22-year-old Mandolese has played two games at this level, both of them this season.

Giving a young goalie an opportunity to start on the rebuilding Senators teams of recent seasons is one thing. Throwing him into a pressure-packed stretch drive is something else.

‘Three weeks for Talbot’

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senators practiced in Seattle in preparation for Thursday’s game with the Kraken, but Talbot was not on the ice. The update was grim.

“They’re telling me three weeks for Cam Talbot,” head coach D.J. Smith told reporters in Seattle. “It is what it is. We’ll keep grinding. Mando has given us some good starts but obviously Soagy will be the guy we run with here.”

Now, Smith rarely complains about the hand he is dealt. And he has had some rough ones. But this is a big blow.

The coach has always leaned toward the experience of Talbot over the promise of his younger goalies, even Forsberg. But with neither Talbot nor Forsberg available during the games that will likely determine Ottawa’s playoff hopes, the Senators have to hope for the kid goalies to really step up here.

They have the potential. But it’s a big ask.

With back-to-back games in Vancouver and Calgary Saturday and Sunday, it looks like Kid 1 and Kid 2 will share the load.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *