Gamedays 44 and 45: Oughta Win Both

The Pittsburgh Penguins surely dodged a bullet with their 4-3 overtime win over the lowly Anaheim Ducks on Monday, a victory that was snatched away by two goals in the span of a minute: Bryan Rust’s first goal in a nearly a month(!!) with 25 seconds left to go in regulation which tied the game at 3; and Jake Guentzel’s first goal in four games to win the game and give Pittsburgh a much-needed (if not much-deserved) two points in the standings. As I alluded to in the Gameday, anyone in the fanbase who wasn’t already carrying torches and pitchforks would very likely have begun doing so in the wake of a loss to one of the worst teams in the NHL. Such as it is, the narrow escape against a seemingly inferior team will probably not reassure most who are clamoring for something to be done to put the Penguins on a better path. But, all’s well that ends well; Pittsburgh has two more points in the standings, they keep pace with the fifth-place New York Islanders, and no one else got hurt. Moving on!

Tonight Pittsburgh is in the Canadian national capital to visit the Ottawa Senators for the first of three meetings this season and to start a home-and-home back-to-back against the Sens. As of this writing, seven points separate the bottom five teams in the Atlantic Division, a cluster that presently features no teams in a playoff spot thanks to crowded race in the Metropolitan Division. Last year’s President’s Trophy winners, the Florida Panthers, are eleven points behind the third place Tampa Bay Lightning and four points behind both Pittsburgh and the Islanders who are technically tied for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. I’m not sure if Florida (or anyone, for that matter) will be pleased to get that second Wild Card spot, because whoever secures it has a first-round meeting with the unreasonably-dominant Boston Bruins in their future. Sounds better to me to either push for the first Wild Card spot or sit this one out.


Ottawa, in the seventh place in the Atlantic, is a further five points behind Florida. After the Penguins shattered their Stanley Cup dreams in 2017, the Senators shattered as an organization as well, deconstructing their roster to the point where the current longest-tenured Senator is Thomas Chabot, in his seventh season for Ottawa (sixth full season). After the 2018-19 season Chabot caught some consideration for the Norris trophy for the League’s best defenseman, but since then he has failed to meet or improve upon that standard. Since Chabot the Senators have drafted a bunch of pretty good players – Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, and Tim Stützle are all hovering around a point-per-game for Ottawa thus far this season, and defenseman Jake Sanderson is also quite good – but that hasn’t been enough for the Senators to climb into a competitive position in the Atlantic Division.

Health problems have also made things difficult for Ottawa, but for an organization that has had a few years to restock its prospect pool, there’s not much to show for it beyond those who have already graduated to the NHL. Just yesterday The Athletic ranked their prospect pool 24th in the League (paywall), a drop of seven spots from last year, and while there are a couple of probably NHLers still left to graduate, there are no strong goaltending prospects like the sort a team usually needs to make that big next step forward. (By comparison, Pittsburgh was ranked 29th.) All the while Ottawa has been eclipsed by at least two of its Atlantic Division peers, namely Buffalo and Detroit (and Montreal is not far behind), and those teams have better prospect pools to brag about (one analyst I follow on Twitter has the latter three teams in his top ten). So, if the Senators have any hopes of advancing to the playoffs in the near future, they also have to hope that the young players they do have will meet or exceed their expectations, and even then they need a sure-fire #1 goaltender, something they’ve had a hard time finding for years.