Hope and intrigue return for senators after Alberta sweep

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When the Ottawa Senators headed west a week ago, the series of COVID-19 reports having piled on top of each other, there was a very real question about how they could maintaining interest throughout their last 53 games.

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The idea of ​​the playoffs, or even the weak pursuit of a postseason berth, disappeared long ago during miserable November.

Give them credit, though. Their sweep of Alberta, including the highly entertaining 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers late Saturday night, is an illustration that there’s plenty of spirit left, that they’re not about to just play the rope.

From Erik Brannstrom and Matt Murray to Josh Norris, Tim Stuetzle and Artem Zub, there are a number of gripping stories to follow.

Let’s start with Norris, who netted the winner of Saturday’s game on the power play late in the third period – his second goal of the game and his team-leading 16. and of the season – to finish off the Oilers.

Adding another layer to the team’s carefree theme of child movement, Norris scored the goal while wearing Dylan Gambrell’s helmet because his was damaged on the play leading up to the penalty.

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“It’s not really how we drafted it, but sometimes that’s how hockey goes,” Norris said of all the unpredictability that led to the wardrobe malfunction. and the late rally. “I think it was a lot of fun and the guys enjoyed it. We have to clean up some things, but that’s hockey. We kind of thrived on that and it was great to get the win.

On an individual note, Norris’ numbers are impressive. He is on pace to score 42 goals this season. He scored 33 goals in the first 89 games of his career. As TSN’s Stats Center pointed out Sunday, Alexei Yashin, 39, is the only other player in Senators history to score more goals in his first 100 games. With each new Norris goal, Erik Karlsson’s trade returns look better.

As a pending restricted free agent once his entry-level contract expires this summer, Norris is set to join linemates Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson on a huge salary.

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On the subject of big paydays, Murray has two years and $15 million remaining on his contract after this season. While the first three months of the season were all about disappointment and frustration — bouts of injury and illness, unclaimed retirements and a demotion to Belleville from the AHL — he bounced back over the past week. .

After going 270 days without a win in the NHL, he won two in three days with wins over Calgary and Edmonton.

Saturday’s effort, in which he stopped 33 of 37 shots, was all about the fight. Adam Gaudette scored for the Senators just seconds after a desperate save on Warren Foegele early in the third period, turning what could have been a 4-1 Oilers lead into a 3-2 game.

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It was an obvious turning point. Murray was also sharp under intense pressure in the first half.

“It could have been 3-0 (for Edmonton) in the first,” Senators coach DJ Smith said. “He did a hell of a job keeping us in there.”

At this point, it’s just a pair of wins, but the weight of the world is suddenly on his shoulders and there’s at least a chance to rebuild something in the final months of the season.

Now on to Brannstrom, who is still struggling to prove he’s a full-time NHL player, nearly three years after being acquired from Vegas in the Mark Stone trade.

He’s topped 17 minutes of ice time in Alberta’s two games and is showing more confidence moving the puck and joining the run. Although he still looks vulnerable to big hits – injuries were a big part of his early career – he is anything but shy. With North Dakota prospect Jake Sanderson on the way before the end of the season, it’s time for Brannstrom to step up for a future with the Senators or to another team via trade.

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Zub, meanwhile, continues to quietly stand out as the club’s best defensive back. His goal on Saturday was a bonus, but it had its effect by standing up to Connor McDavid a few times on Saturday when he played 23:18. Murray also had his say, of course, but McDavid and Draisaitl combined for just one assist. In Edmonton’s nine-game sweep against the Senators last season, they had 14 goals and 24 assists.

“You have to give (Nick) Holden and Zub a lot of credit,” Smith said. “They both handled the game very well. They both skate. They took care of the puck. They weren’t beaten. They are the two best players in the world and these two guys have done a hell of a job. »

Take what you want from the plus/minus stats, but Zub owns a plus seven on a team that was outscored 112-89.

If and when Sanderson arrives, will Zub become his safety valve?

As for Stuetzle, who turned 20 on Saturday, he continues to enjoy an extended trial earlier than expected at the center.

With what remains of the season, he will have every chance to develop those skills, with the organization thinking deeply about potential wingers – Andrei Kuzmenko, perhaps? – which could one day complete it.

Add it all up and there’s intrigue as the Seantors now head into a regular streak of games again.

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Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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