The Ottawa Senators looked to have their goaltending tandem set for the foreseeable future, but recent results and some moves have raised some questions.
Whenever a team goes through a length rebuild, where bringing up young talent is a priority and some of the veterans hanging around are better suited to bottom six/pairing roles, there are always bound to be teething problems, so to speak.
For the Ottawa Senators, the 2021 season is one of serious transition, with their top skaters all being younger than 24 years old and learning to handle bigger assignments at the NHL level.
As a result, the team finds them firmly at the bottom of the North Division and arguably the current favourite to be a lottery pick winner when the regular season is wrapped up by May 8th.
Murray, still adjusting to no longer being with the team that he helped guide to back-to-back Stanley Cups, has the team’s two wins to his name so far, holding a 2-6-1 record to begin his career in the Canadian capital.
He has a 3.63 goals-against average and a shockingly poor .886 save percentage – though four of his starts fall under the ‘Quality Starts’ category, where his stats were above his seasonal average, meaning there have been some stronger performances than his base stats currently suggest.
While his position as the team’s starter is unquestioned, especially considering the four-year, $6.25 million per year contract he signed with the team, the team’s backup role is far less secure.
Marcus Hogberg entered the season as the assured second choice for the Senators, with some decent performances in his 24-game stint with the team last season and Anders Nilsson’s health concerns leading to his contract being dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This season, however, things have just not gone well for the 26-year-old, who is 0-5-0, with a 4.80 goals-against average and a stunning .837 save percentage – being pulled in last night’s 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
In relief, Murray saved all nine shots he faced and kept the Oilers out of the net.
Prior to the game, the Ottawa Senators made the decision to send former Arizona State goaltender Joey Daccord down to the Belleville Senators, calling up previously presumed AHL starter Filip Gustavsson to the team’s taxi squad.
This move could be a lot more complicated than it may initially appear, as it could suggest that Gustavsson may be called up in the near future to replace Hogberg, but it could also mean that Daccord may even be the one to receive to call-up instead.
The B-Sens get their 2021 AHL season underway on Friday (12th February) with a four-game series against the Laval Rocket, with games on back-to-back nights before the third of the series takes place next Tuesday.
Assigned Daccord to the minors would allow him to play in the team’s opening games, giving him meaningful minutes and a chance to warm up before the NHL Senators make a decision on whether or not to give him a shot at the backup role.
Hogberg’s play has not been good enough, with some questionable positioning allowing some soft goals at times, and Daccord could be the player best suited to take over in the short-term.
Gustavsson still has the highest ceiling of the Ottawa Senators’ goaltenders, at least right now, but Daccord, being older, seems ready to take the call should D.J. Smith and Pierre Dorion decide that the team needs to at least try to win games this season.
Bottoming out is not the end of the world for the Senators, but seeing progress in a number of areas certainly is something they will want to have and giving Daccord a chance to make that progress could be the next step.
Gustavsson, meanwhile, will likely find himself sent back to Belleville after the team’s opening two games, where he will take up his expected role as the AHL team’s starter, helping him to make his own progress.
Questions around Hogberg’s future with the franchise may continue to arise until a definitive move is made, but this weekend’s AHL fixtures will give fans a chance to see what they could have in Daccord if he is the one to earn the chance.