Senators eager to regain momentum from early December after long layoff

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  • Ottawa Senators
    Ottawa Senators

OTTAWA — The month of December was supposed to be a busy one for the Ottawa Senators, but instead the team finds itself wondering when they might play their next game.

There were 15 games on Ottawa's schedule in December but the Senators have played just nine so far, with five having already been postponed. They're also waiting to hear if they will be able to host the Pittsburgh Penguins Dec. 31.

Thirty teams across the NHL are dealing with players and staff testing positive for COVID-19. The Senators are no different. They were one of the first teams to deal with an outbreak back in November and needed to reschedule three games.

Most recently Ottawa head coach D.J. Smith was placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, along with goalie Filip Gustavsson, assistant coach Davis Payne, video coach Mike King and three support staff. Goaltender Anton Forsberg joined the list on Monday.

Smith was back on the ice Tuesday for the first time and said he was one of the lucky ones as he described his symptoms as a head cold.

With the Senators recently playing some of their best hockey this season, the recent postponements have been disappointing. Ottawa had a 5-3-1 record for the month of December, with impressive wins against Carolina, Tampa and Florida in that span.

“We wanted to keep rolling,” said Smith. “This is a real tough situation here. It’s touch and go every single day so we look forward to get back and playing and getting our groove back.”

The Senators still have two games to make up from November, but are confident they’ll be able to fit everything in during the month of February.

“I know the schedule maker got in contact with Anthony Leblanc about possible dates because of our building,” said Dorion. “We’re very confident (we’ll get games in). A lot of these games are at home I think, except for one game.”

With both of its goaltenders in COVID-19 protocol, although Gustavsson is expected to be back on the ice Wednesday, the Senators decided to recall Matt Murray from the American Hockey League's Belleville Seators on Tuesday morning.

The 27-year-old Murray cleared waivers and was assigned to Belleville on Nov. 28 after going winless in six games this season and posting an .890 save percentage. In his two games in Belleville, Murray has one win and one loss with five goals allowed.

Ottawa had hoped Murray would get lots of playing time while in the AHL, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible due to two COVID-19 outbreaks. However, the two-time Stanley Cup winner felt he benefited from working with goalie coach Justin Peters.

“Working with (Peters) was awesome,” said Murray. “I got a lot of practice time in, unfortunately, like I said not a lot of game time, which is what I really wanted, but a lot of practice time.

"I got to hear a new voice with (Peters) and just kind of see what he had to say and be coached by him a little bit and yeah it was a real positive.”

Smith and general manager Pierre Dorion said they were happy to have Murray back and hope the time in the AHL was beneficial.

“We sent him down to Belleville to get playing and practice time and not have the spotlight of the NHL on him as he finds his game,” said Dorion. “D.J. is the coach so he’ll decide when he plays. I think he’ll be one of two goalies available to us when we start playing again.”

The Senators also announced they had signed Tyler Boucher to a three-year, entry level contract. Terms were not disclosed.

Boucher, the son of former NHL goaltender Brian Boucher, was the Senators’ first pick, 10th overall, in the 2021 NHL draft. The 18-year-old is currently playing at Boston University where he has three points (2G, 1A) and a team-leading 34 penalty minutes in 17 games.

Boucher has decided to leave BU and will join the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, who own his junior rights. Boucher won’t be able to travel to Canada until Jan. 6 as he tested positive for COVID-19.

While it is uncommon for a player to leave college to play major junior it was something Boucher began contemplating earlier this season.

“When you look at a player of Tyler Boucher’s calibre and how he plays the game, for sure, for us, playing major junior probably fits his type of game more,” said Dorion of Boucher’s decision to leave BU. “I think he’s going to be playing with players that are closer to his own age.”

Dorion said that by playing with the 67’s, Boucher will likely have an opportunity to get more playing time, which will be beneficial to his overall development.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2021.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press

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