PREVIEW: Improving Ottawa Senators set to face well-rested Maple Leafs

By Field Level Media
Mar 14, 2021; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin (8) and Ottawa Senators right wing Connor Brown (28) battle in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Ottawa Senators look to continue their hottest stretch of the season through another Battle Of Ontario when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

Ottawa has recorded points in each of its past five games (3-0-2) and is coming off consecutive wins over the Calgary Flames. On Wednesday, the host Senators trailed through 44 minutes before scoring three unanswered goals for a 3-1 victory.

Pressed into action due to injuries to the Senators’ top three goaltenders, rookie goalie Filip Gustavsson stopped 63 of 65 Flames shots to win his first two career NHL starts.

Since the Senators are playing on consecutive days, the team will likely rest Gustavsson on Thursday and allow Anton Forsberg to make his Ottawa debut. The Senators claimed Forsberg off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets last week, and Forsberg would be making his first NHL appearance since March 7, 2020.

The news wasn’t all good from the Calgary series, however. Ottawa forward Austin Watson sustained a hand injury on Monday and will miss the next four to six weeks.

“When you talk about a guy that’s coming in to help your culture, I don’t know if (general manager Pierre Dorion) could have brought in a more perfect guy for that situation,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said about Watson, describing the veteran as “an absolute perfect guy to bring into our group and show you just how hard you have to play if you play 12 minutes.”

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Watson, 29, played six seasons with the Nashville Predators before the Senators acquired him in an October trade.

While the Senators played on both Monday and Wednesday, the Maple Leafs have been in a lighter portion of the schedule. The Leafs didn’t play from March 15-18, then played back-to-back home games against Calgary, but have been on another four-day break.

“It gives you a little bit more time and more energy to hone in on some things that maybe you want to focus on and look to tweak,” Toronto captain John Tavares said.

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This minor reset could be what the Maple Leafs need, given their 2-6-0 record over their past eight games. The Leafs hope they sparked a turnaround after winning their latest outing, a 2-0 shutout of the Flames on Saturday.

Jack Campbell stopped all 31 shots he faced, and the goalie has a personal shutout streak of 133:27 stretching across his past three games. Due to injuries, those three games for Campbell cover a span of two full months, but the Leafs are hopeful that a healthy Campbell can stabilize their goaltending situation.

Beyond the issues in net, Toronto’s struggles can be linked to a slumping special teams unit. Over the past eight games, the Leafs are 1-for-17 on power-play chances while the penalty kill has allowed eight goals during 20 opposing power plays.

Though 15 points separate the Maple Leafs, who are tied for first in the North Division, and the Senators, who sit in last, the provincial rivals have been evenly matched through six prior games this season. Each team has collected three wins (Toronto 3-2-1, Ottawa 3-3-0) and the Leafs have a narrow 23-21 scoring advantage.

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Auston Matthews leads the Maple Leafs with 11 points (six goals, five assists) in the six previous Ottawa games. Mitchell Marner (two goals, seven assists) and Joe Thornton (three goals, five assists) are also averaging better than a point per game against the Senators.

For Ottawa, Brady Tkachuk has seven points (three goals, four assists) against Toronto.

–Field Level Media