Senators notebook: Jake Sanderson’s brilliance, another predictable loss and more


OK, let’s start this notebook column with some positivity.

You remember that feeling, right?

It’s a bit of excitement mixed with optimism.

Well, that feeling suddenly came rushing back to Senators fans late in the first period on Wednesday evening when Jake Sanderson found the back of the net for the first time in his NHL career.

Sanderson has been nothing short of a revelation this season. And for a brief moment on Wednesday, Ottawa fans were celebrating his milestone achievement. With the goal, Sanderson also collected his 10th point of the season — a feat that required just 19 games to accomplish. That makes Sanderson the fastest defenceman in franchise history to notch 10 points.

The Senators will hit the 20-game mark of the season on Friday in Anaheim and Sanderson is putting up numbers that look awfully similar to what Moritz Seider had at this same point last season. The Red Wings defenceman, of course, went on to capture the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Sanderson vs. Seider in rookie seasons


Moritz Seider






Jake Sanderson






Sanderson has spent almost twice as much time as Seider did killing penalties, which is pretty impressive for a rookie defenceman. Sanderson’s goal on Wednesday came while quarterbacking Ottawa’s top power-play unit. The challenge for him will be trying to keep that spot when Thomas Chabot returns to the lineup from his concussion.

Seider ended last season with 50 points, which might be tough for Sanderson to attain if he’s not getting the prime power-play minutes behind Chabot. But as it stands now, Sanderson is on pace for a 40-point campaign and has absolutely thrust himself into the conversation for the Calder.

Unfortunately for Ottawa on Wednesday evening, Vegas goalie Logan Thompson showed why he might have the inside track on the league’s rookie of the year trophy.

Another loss with a familiar pattern

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Senators deserved a better fate on Wednesday night.

Ottawa fired 40 shots at Thompson, but the Vegas netminder turned aside 39 of them.

Whereas the Senators only had one good period on Monday in San Jose, they were demonstrably the better team for large stretches of Wednesday’s game at T-Mobile Arena. Even my colleague Jesse Granger, who covers the Golden Knights for us, was impressed by Ottawa’s dominance at the midway point of this contest.

Ottawa really dominated this game in several aspects at five-on-five. According to Natural Stat Trick, they had twice as many high-danger chances as Vegas (11-5), outshot them 33-22 and carried almost 68 percent of the expected goal share.

And yet, the final scoreboard — the only metric that truly matters — read 4-1 in favour of Vegas.

It’s become the same, predictable and frustrating pattern.

The Senators often outplay and outshoot their opponent.

But they fail to capitalize on their golden scoring chances. In Wednesday’s game, a short-handed breakaway from Parker Kelly was thwarted by Thompson. If Kelly buries that chance, it gives Ottawa a 2-1 lead and possibly shifts the momentum in the contest.

Instead, four minutes later, William Carrier was able to cut around Lassi Thompson and score the eventual game-winning goal with a highlight-reel marker. The Golden Knights really didn’t have any business with a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, but it kind of felt like we knew what would happen in the third period. Vegas tacked on a nice backhand goal from William Karlsson early in the frame and then closed it out with the all-too-predictable empty netter from Jack Eichel. Maybe Cam Talbot should have stopped the Karlsson backhander, but it was a moot point anyway.

The Senators simply cannot score goals with any frequency and consistency these days. Ottawa might still be a positive possession team on many nights, but it certainly feels like they’ve worn out the label as analytics darlings with their own fan base.

At the FIFA World Cup on Wednesday, soccer fans in this country were disappointed — but somewhat inspired — by Team Canada’s 1-0 loss to Belgium. Canadian soccer fans left that game feeling, “If they play like that against Croatia on Sunday, they’ll be just fine.”

But nobody is saying that about the Senators anymore, because this has passed the point of optimism for most fans. Sure, Ottawa could put together another solid 60 minutes on Friday in Anaheim, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them two points.

When Ottawa was losing games earlier this season, they could hang their hat on the fact that the results would eventually flip in their favour. Stay the course and blah, blah, blah.

But as they hit the 20-game mark of the season on Friday, that certainly hasn’t been the case.

This looks like a group lacking confidence right now. They haven’t won back-to-back games in more than a month. They’ve been outscored 14-3 in their last three games. I don’t think the status quo is going to cut it.

Sure, they’re outplaying the opposition on many nights. But when the other team is always able to score in key moments — and you’re squeezing your stick — it doesn’t really matter what the Corsi or expected goal numbers say. You’re a fragile group that needs an injection of confidence.

If the Senators lose to Anaheim on Friday afternoon, they will officially slip into 32nd place in the NHL standings.

That sentence alone should be enough to incite significant change in Ottawa.

Brannstrom’s streak nears century mark

Erik Brannstrom had one of his strongest games of the season on Wednesday in Vegas.

Paired with Artem Zub for most of the night, Brannstrom had a fairly dominant game. The Senators outshot Vegas 16-5 with Brannstrom on the ice at five-on-five.

Brannstrom’s smooth performance was a compelling argument that Ottawa might want to change up their defence pairings when Chabot returns to the mix. Perhaps the Senators would be better suited with the following pairs on the back end:

Chabot — Thomson (or Bernard-Docker)

Sanderson — Hamonic

Brannstrom — Zub

This would spread the Senators’ top three defencemen — Chabot, Sanderson and Zub — onto different pairings and allow them to anchor each unit. At this point, anything is probably worth a shot to help change the fortunes of a team that has won only twice in its last 13 games. The Senators need to manage Chabot’s minutes more effectively instead of wearing him down. Sanderson has proven he can take on a bigger load and the Brannstrom-Zub combo has some potential chemistry. So maybe this is one route to take.

On Monday, Brannstrom had a couple of good looks at the Vegas net, but was only credited with one shot on goal in the game. By not scoring a goal, Brannstrom’s goal drought extended to 94 games — moving him out of a tie for third place in this dubious category in franchise history.

Longest goal droughts in Sens history

Games without a goal

Shane Hnidy


Brian Lee


Erik Brannstrom


Eric Gryba


Matt Carkner


Gord Dineen


Remarkably, Brannstrom has fired 136 shots on opposing netminders since his last goal on February 25, 2021. For context, Artem Zub also has 136 shots on goal in that same span, but he has nine goals to his credit. Michael Del Zotto rolled in and scored three goals on 36 shots while he was in Ottawa.

Brannstrom is too talented to be on a list with so many stay-at-home defencemen. And for his sake, here’s hoping he scores in the next few games before he reaches the 100-game mark. Currently, only one NHL player — Ryan Murray — has an active streak north of 100 games. Murray’s streak is at 103 games without a goal.

Ridly Greig “is not ready for the NHL”

Let’s wrap up this notebook column with a little update on Ridly Greig.

With Lassi Thomson up in the NHL, a lot of fans were also hoping to see Greig get the call-up to Ottawa as well. And when Shane Pinto was banged up earlier in the week, Ottawa fans were pining for Greig to come and fill his spot.

However, there are two things that are preventing Greig from making his NHL debut any time soon.

The first is an injury that will keep him sidelined for the next week or so, after he was hit from behind last weekend. Belleville head coach Troy Mann gave an update on Greig during his weekly hit on TSN 1200, which you can listen to here. 

But last week, I had a chance to connect with Mann and Greig in Belleville and it was fairly clear that the young centreman would be staying in the AHL for the foreseeable future. Injury or not.

Mann was pretty honest and straightforward with his assessment of Greig’s game at the professional level.

“Ridly is not ready for the NHL. Every kid thinks they’re ready, but there is a ways to go,” Mann told me. “Has he been good and getting better game to game? Absolutely. But there are nights where he gets dominated on faceoffs. And other nights where he’s the best guy on faceoffs. So there are some inconsistencies there.”

Greig only has 18 games of AHL experience under his belt and Mann believes that if he follows the development curve from Josh Norris, it will benefit him in the long run. Norris spent the entire 2019-20 season with Belleville — with the exception of a very brief call-up to Ottawa — and he collected 31 goals in 56 games.

“He’s going to be a player and we all love him,” Mann said of Greig. “But Josh Norris spent a season here for a reason. And I think the organization is doing right by the kid right now.”

Greig said he completely agreed with the assessment of his head coach and believes that Norris’ success serves as a perfect blueprint for him.

“Yeah, I think for sure. Look at him and the other guys who have played here,” said Greig. “Throughout the year, I’m just going to focus on getting better and getting some experience under my belt.”

For his part, Greig said the AHL “game is a lot faster at this level” and he needs to add strength to his frame as well. There’s a chance he might get a call-up at some point just to get a game or two, but it really feels like the organization’s ideal plan would see Greig pushing for a full-time job here next fall.

(Photo of Jake Sanderson skating against Vegas’ Reilly Smith: Candice Ward / Getty Images)


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