Senators on the bubble get chance to make a case in back-to-back games against Habs

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OTTAWA — There aren’t a lot of openings on the Ottawa Senators roster, but head coach D.J. Smith still has some decisions to make.

With back-to-back pre-season games coming up against the Montreal Canadiens, those decisions might soon become a little clearer.

Smith will be looking to reduce his roster and cuts will likely come Sunday in order for players to be assigned to their American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville as they open camp Monday.

This Senators squad is already on the young side, but there could be room for a few fresh faces.

Ottawa opens the regular season Oct. 14 against Toronto and the biggest question of all will be whether Brady Tkachuk will be in the lineup.

Tkachuk, a restricted free agent, has yet to be signed to an extension and speculation is the two sides haven’t been able to come to terms due to a differing of opinion on the contract structure.

The 22-year-old winger is currently skating in Ann Arbor, Mich., as he looks to stay in shape for when he actually does join the team.

The longer the impasse goes on, the more Smith will need to decide how he’s going to fill the vacancy on the left side.

A few of the players to watch include Shane Pinto, who is making a case to be the number two centre, Egor Sokolov, who has been pushing to play with the big club after a solid season in Belleville and veteran Tyler Ennis, who was brought in on a professional tryout.

Erik Brannstrom, the highly touted prospect acquired in the Mark Stone trade to Vegas, but who has struggled, will get a look on defence. Lassi Thompson will be looking to make an impression so that he can be considered as a call-up from Belleville.

Pinto, Sokolov, Ennis and Brannstrom will all play Friday night.

“It will be more of a mixed group for both (games),” said Smith. “After that we’re looking to cut down and get down to almost our lineup, or as close to it as we can, for (pre-season) games five, six, seven. After this weekend we’re going to make a lot of decisions and go down to a much smaller group, we’ll go down to one group.”

The Senators are now 1-1-0 in the pre-season. They started with an exciting 3-2 overtime win over Winnipeg, but were shut out 4-0 Wednesday night by Toronto in a game where there were some glaring mistakes on Ottawa’s part.

Smith, to some degree, has no issue with mistakes being made at this point of the season.

“The only thing for me is some of the mistakes you made can’t be made over and over again,” said Smith. “You correct them and you move on. You always want to win, but at the end of the day no one’s going to remember exhibition game two of the NHL schedule, but are we getting better and learning from that?”

Matt Murray is expected to start in goal Friday. No goaltending decision has been made for Saturday night.

Notes: Jacob Bernard-Docker has been dealing with a bit of an ankle issue and has been held off the ice for precautionary reasons. Clark Bishop, who played Wednesday night, injured his ankle and is expected to miss significant time. Smith said it’s not broken, but is serious enough that he will be out for a while.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2021.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press

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