The Ottawa Senators showed little signs of rust when they played for just the second time in 26 days and for the first time in 12 days on Thursday night at Calgary, where they defeated the Flames 4-1.
But now comes a much bigger challenge on Saturday night, when they travel to Edmonton to play an Oilers squad that hasn’t played since a 4-2 loss at Toronto on Jan. 5.
The teams met nine times last year in the North Division. Edmonton won all nine, including seven by two goals or more.
Ottawa left winger Austin Watson was asked by reporters this week if the drought against the Oilers was frustrating.
“Absolutely,” Watson said. “You get beat by a team nine times, something like that, it sucks. If you’re feeling good, you’re probably in the wrong profession.”
Watson was asked why the Senators, who improved to 6-3-1 in their past 10 games with the win at Calgary, struggled so badly against Edmonton.
“I think it’s a little bit of a mix,” he said. “You have elite talent over there in 97 (Connor McDavid) and 29 (Leon Draisaitl). They’re two of, if not the (two), best players in world. It’s almost like a little bit of a cheat code at times.”
McDavid and Draisaitl are tied for first in the NHL in points (53), with Draisaitl leading the league with 26 goals despite the fact Edmonton has played just 34 games. Draisaitl had two hat tricks and a six-assist game last season against the Senators while McDavid had 21 points (four goals, 17 assists), including one five-point contest.
“They’re able to find a way to get us running around a little bit,” Watson said. “It’s a challenge for a young hockey team. You get out there and you get in the spin cycle a little bit with the speed and skill and they’re such a good rush team as well. The game gets spread out and you give up scoring chances, and they’re able to capitalize and we just weren’t able to find a way.
“Fortunately last year was a complete anomaly and we’re able to move on to this year and start anew.”
Senators goaltender Matt Murray, who was 0-6-0 with a 3.67 goals-against and .883 save percentage before Thursday, finished with 27 saves in the win over the Flames. He ended a personal eight-game losing streak in games he played (covering six starts) dating back to April 22, 2021, against the Vancouver Canucks.
Nick Paul scored twice for Ottawa in the first period Thursday.
“Matt Murray was really good, he saw the puck all night, and he just looked really confident,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “But a lot of guys had good games. I thought we shot a lot more pucks and we had a lot of energy. We had legs tonight for sure.”
Edmonton, which is 2-9-2 over its past 13 games, resumed team activities from its COVID-19-forced break with a practice on Wednesday.
“There’s positives and negatives to (the long layoff),” left winger Zach Hyman said. “The negative is you want to get back on the winning track as quickly as possible, but when you don’t play, you can’t do that. The positive is you have time to regroup, refocus (and) reset. Obviously there are a lot of guys coming back from COVID and we’re a little bit lighter in numbers in practice.
“Just being able to rest and get your body healthy and get ready for a big stretch and reset your mind can be a really positive thing, too.”
Oilers coach Dave Tippett said goalie Mike Smith, who is 2-2-1 with 3.76 goals-against average this season, has a partial tear of a tendon in his thumb and will be sidelined for one to two weeks.
The team recalled Stuart Skinner, who is 4-5-0 with a 2.70 GAA this season with the Oilers, from AHL Bakersfield to help back up expected starter Mikko Koskinen.