Senators season preview: Murray must bounce back

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Ottawa Senators.

Coach: D.J. Smith (third season)

Last season: 23-28-5; sixth in Scotia North Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs

3 KEYS

1. Murray back on track

The Senators need more of the Matt Murray that ended last season. The goalie had a .954 save percentage and two shutouts in five games after returning April 14 from an upper-body injury that had kept him out for a month. It provides hope that he can bounce back from a season that saw him finish with the highest goals-against average (3.38) and lowest save percentage (.893) of his six NHL seasons.

A healthy Murray gives the Senators an experienced last line of defense as they try to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017.

2. Youth continuing to develop

Ottawa’s young core took a step forward last season, and it will need to push further for the Senators to climb in the standings.

Brady Tkachuk, 21, led Ottawa in scoring for the second straight season with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 56 games but is an unsigned restricted free agent. Drake Batherson, 23, who signed a six-year contract Sept. 3, scored 17 goals last season after scoring six in his first two NHL seasons. Tim Stutzle, 19, was fifth among all rookies with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 53 games. Defenseman Thomas Chabot, 24, averaged more than 26:00 of ice time per game for the second straight season, and defenseman Erik Brannstrom, 22, averaged 1.35 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, 11th among NHL defensemen.

Video: Ottawa Senators 2021-22 Season Preview

3. Better starts

The Senators allowed 62 goals in the first period, tied for the second-most in the NHL last season (Philadelphia Flyers, 63) and their minus-16 first-period goal differential was the fifth-lowest in the League. They also allowed the first goal of a game 32 times, sixth-most in the NHL. When the Senators scored first, they were 16-5-3, and 7-23-2 when allowing the first goal. 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

The competition to back up Murray likely will be between Anton Forsberg and Filip Gustavsson. Forsberg, who was 3-4-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in eight games last seasons, has the experience, with 56 NHL games in six seasons with the Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. But Gustavsson, 23, made his NHL debut March 17 and was 5-1-2 with a 2.16 GAA and .933 save percentage in nine games (seven starts).

Most intriguing addition 

Defenseman Nick Holden was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights to bring veteran experience and physical play to support a young group that is counted on to support the offense. Holden has averaged 6.33 hits per 60 minutes of ice time and has a plus-10 rating in his 10 NHL seasons. He had two assists in 17 regular-season games and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 15 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Vegas last season.

Biggest potential surprise 

Shane Pinto could be the next young player to take a big role with the Senators, possibly starting the season as the second-line center. The 20-year-old scored seven points (one goal, six assists) in 12 NHL games after signing a three-year, entry-level contract April 1. He scored 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 28 games with the University of North Dakota last season and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the best men’s NCAA Division I hockey player.

Ready to break through 

Defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker could join Pinto, his North Dakota teammate, in Ottawa this season. The 21-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract April 1 after he scored 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) and was a plus-17 in 27 NCAA games. He did not score a point while averaging 13:40 of ice time in five games with the Senators last season. He has a chance to win a third-pair spot or will begin the season in a prominent role with Belleville of the American Hockey League.

Fantasy sleeper 

Batherson (fantasy average draft position: 175.0) scored 17 goals last season, tied with Tkachuk and center Josh Norris for second on the Senators behind forward Connor Brown‘s 21. Batherson proved he’ll be one of the building blocks for the Senators, and his ceiling is even higher with likely top line and first power-play unit exposure to Tkachuk and Norris over a full season. Batherson is worth reaching for around the 150 mark in standard 12-team fantasy leagues because of his strong hits coverage (102 in 56 games last season). — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup 

Brady Tkachuk — Josh Norris — Drake Batherson

Tim Stutzle — Shane Pinto — Connor Brown

Zach Sanford — Chris Tierney — Colin White

Alex Formenton — Nick Paul — Austin Watson

Thomas Chabot — Nikita Zaitsev

Michael Del Zotto — Artem Zub

Nick Holden — Erik Brannstrom

Matt Murray

Anton Forsberg

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