Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday storylines: Fine, we'll pay attention to Brock Boeser

It’s a relatively quiet Saturday night in the NHL, with only a half-dozen games on the schedule as the league gears up for a busy New Year’s Eve slate tomorrow. Four of the seven Canadian teams have the night off, while three others are in action and chasing a playoff spot…. Kind of.

HNIC Game of the Night: Bruins at Senators

Did you have a good holiday? Looking forward to your New Year’s party? Good. Have your fun while you can. Because for some teams, this is the part of the NHL season where things start getting desperate.

Coming into this week, the Senators hadn’t played the Bruins yet on the season. But the post-holiday schedule served up a pair of games right up front, one in each city. It was basically a home-and-home, albeit an odd one split up by each team having a game squeezed in between their two meetings.

And it represented a great opportunity for a Senators team that’s been desperate for one. With the entire Metro clogging up the wild-card race, Ottawa’s best path to the playoffs looks like it involves catching either the Bruins or Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic. That’s a tall order; the Sens came out of the break 13 points back of Boston and 14 behind Toronto. But sweep two regulation wins against the Bruins, and you get the gap down to single digits. That’s still a ton of ground, but at least it starts feeling manageable.

And so the Sens headed into Boston on Wednesday night looking to start their journey of a thousand miles with a single step. Instead, they stumbled through a 5-1 loss. And now, the situation feels critical. One regulation loss was a missed opportunity. Another might all but slam the door on catching the Bruins at all.

That’s not quite must-win territory – even if the Bruins pull away, there’s still the Maple Leafs or the wild card. Those may be better options no matter what happens, as the Bruins have quietly been one of the league’s better teams for much of the first half. They haven’t received enough credit for that, partly because their early record didn’t live up to how they were playing and partly because they spent the first few months having multiple games in hand on just about everyone. If you were only looking at the points column, they were an easy enough team to ignore.

They’re not being ignored anymore; five straight wins tends to do that. And it’s largely the young guys who are driving that success, with players like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen exceeding expectations. Brad Marchand keeps scoring, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask keep making sure you can’t score, and the Bruins keep winning.

None of that is good news for Ottawa, a team whose struggles on and off the ice have been well-documented. Most playoff bubble teams have a tough time withstanding a four game losing streak; the Senators just ended their third in six weeks. And in the middle of all of that, they need to somehow find a way to win tonight.

If there’s any good news from an Ottawa perspective, it’s this: The Senators should be desperate. We should see them come out with all guns blazing. Given the disparity between the two teams, that still may not be enough. And if it doesn’t happen, it will be fair to start asking some tough questions about the makeup of this team. You certainly can’t say that the stakes aren’t high heading into tonight.

Or maybe it’s already too late, none of this matters, and it’s all about Rasmus Dahlin at this point. There’s that angle too. As far as I can tell, a lot of Senators fans are already there.

Either way, tonight is a chance for the Senators to make a statement. Maybe one of their last.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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