OTTAWA — The month of November is one the Ottawa Senators would like to forget, but chances are it’s going to impact them the rest of the season.
After going 1-10-1 over the month, the Senators find themselves dead last in the standings with a 4-14-1 record.
“Well, I don't know why there would be any reason to remember the month of November,” head coach D.J. Smith said Tuesday. "I think everyone's done with it.
"It's just as tough a month as probably every player, staff, management, ownership has dealt with, with all the things. The losses, the COVID, everything that's happened, injuries, we're done with it and we can't be happier to move on to December."
Moving on might be easier said than done.
This was a team that was supposed to start winning after four mostly miserable seasons — "The rebuild is done," general manager Pierre Dorion said after signing a contract extension in September — but with the current state of things it’s hard to believe the Senators will make a drastic turnaround.
While it would be easy to blame a recent COVID-19 outbreak that affected 10 Senators players and caused the postponement of thee of games for the team’s current predicament, that would just be an excuse.
The issues were there well before.
Defensively, the team was and is struggling. Through its 19 games, Ottawa has a league worst 3.84 goals-against-average and is a disaster in its defensive zone.
The goaltending trio of Matt Murray, Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson have been part of the problem.
Ottawa recently placed the veteran Murray, who’s still looking for his first win of the season, on waivers. Now he and his contract, with an annual average value of US$6.25 million, have been assigned to Belleville of the American Hockey League. Murray has two years remaining on his contract.
Goaltending aside, the Senators also have lots of room for improvement from their defencemen, aside from Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub.
With their roster depleted by COVID the Senators were forced to recall Lassi Thompson. The 21-year-old has looked solid, but this blue line still makes far too many mistakes.
With 15 games in the month of December, the Senators will have their work cut out to prove they are more than basement dwellers.
“When we looked at December in the summer, we thought this would be our toughest month with the teams we’re playing,” said Smith. “If you look at our schedule, the teams we're playing over this month are the toughest and there's no better way to get yourself back, feeling good, is to beat a good team and that's what we have to do here in the month of December.
"We’ve got to play better and we’ve got to find a way to beat a good team and get feeling good about ourselves."
The work starts Wednesday night as the Senators host the Vancouver Canucks (7-14-2), who are also dealing with their own internal struggles.
The Senators will get some reinforcements as Drake Batherson, the Senators' leading scorer (seven goals, nine assists), is finally out of COVID protocol and ready to get back to action.
Batherson said he felt some fatigue and lost his sense of smell and taste, but overall wasn’t too hard done by during his quarantine. He was back on the ice Saturday and is excited to get back in the lineup.
“I’m pumped to be back playing, obviously everyone hates watching, so I’m excited to get back in the lineup (Thursday) night and just have some fun with the guys and bring some energy,” said Batherson. “The boys are starving for a win, so hopefully we can get that (Thursday) night.”
In addition to Batherson, Adam Gaudette, who was claimed off waivers last Saturday, will make his Senators debut against the Canucks.
Through eight games with Chicago, Gaudette averaged 10:31 of ice time and had one goal and one assist. He's looking at his opportunity with the Senators as a fresh start.
The 25-year-old played mostly on the wing in Chicago, but considers himself a natural centre and is looking forward to the opportunity to line up between Alex Formenton and Curtis Sanford.
While things might seem bleak from a hockey perspective, Smith was quick to point out that there are people dealing with far worse
“You’ve got to put things in perspective,” he said. “This is a game. We’re struggling for sure, with a lot of things, but I'm going to tell you right now we're in the best spot in the world. This is where every person wants to be.”
Notes: Centre Shane Pinto is rehabbing after shoulder surgery and will be out long-term. Smith said he could be done for the season or could get back for a few games at the end of the year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published November 30, 2021.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected version of an earlier stories. The Ottawa Senators host the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, not Thursday as previously stated.