Murray finds comfort zone in crease, Senators consider last-minute roster changes

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Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray declined to engage in a discussion of the team’s expectations on Sunday.

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After all, there are still a number of question marks as to what exactly the roster will look like for Thursday’s season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Senators still play without left winger restricted free agent Brady Tkachuk and with significant injuries to centers Colin White and Austin Watson. There could also be more roster movement before the Senators and all NHL teams are due to submit their opening day rosters Monday at 5 p.m.

Murray, however, did his part during the preseason to allay the concerns of goalkeepers.

Looking to bounce back from his faltering first season with the Senators, he’s been solid in all three exhibition games.

“I was feeling pretty good, I was just trying to improve a little bit with each game,” said Murray, who allowed three goals before leaving half of Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. Toronto, which has concluded the preseason schedule.

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Murray feels more settled than at the start of the 2020-21 season, without any tune-up game.

“Maybe we take the preseason for granted,” he said after Sunday morning practice.

“After last year, we realize how important it is to have this preparation period to sort out the issues. When you come out of a long summer like we did last year, it was a bit of a challenge. “

Murray rebounded towards the end of the 2020-21 season, but the early mess with the Senators also led Zac Bierk to replace Pierre Groulx as goaltending coach. Murray finished with a 10-13-1 record, a 3.38 goals-against average and a 0.893 save percentage.

The Senators, who may struggle to find offense, will need much better numbers from Murray this time around to stay competitive.

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Senators coach DJ Smith called the team’s preseason goaltenders “spectacular,” saying “they gave us a shot at winning every night.”

With Filip Gustavsson assigned to AHL’s Belleville on Sunday, the Senators will open the season with Anton Forsberg as Murray’s replacement.

They certainly have the confidence that Gustavsson, who went 5-1-2 with a 2.16 GAA and .933 save percentage at the end of the 2020-21 season, can step in at any time. .

Senators winger Austin Watson injured an ankle in Thursday's preseason game against the Canadiens and is expected to be out of action for at least some time.
Senators winger Austin Watson injured an ankle in Thursday’s preseason game against the Canadiens and is expected to be out of action for at least some time. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

WATSON OUT ONE MONTH

The ever-changing lower end of the Senators’ forward ranks took another hit. Smith said on Sunday that veteran rugged winger Watson would be sidelined for four weeks with an ankle injury.

According to the coach, his value goes far beyond the surface numbers.

“He holds people accountable,” Smith said. “He can call anyone on the mat at any time. He will fight a guy twice his size or block a shot with any part of his body.

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Watson scored three goals and seven assists in 34 games last season, missing the end of the year with wrist surgery.

His absence could open the door for Scott Sabourin to start the year again in the big leagues. Sabourin stepped in to fight Justin Holl on Saturday after Holl punched Tim Stuetzle while he was in a vulnerable position.

Logan Shaw (left) of the Winnipeg Jets and Sammy Blais of the St. Louis Blues, February 6, 2020. Shaw signed a two-year contract with the Ottawa Senators in 2020 and plays with the Belleville Senators in the THE H.
Logan Shaw (left) of the Winnipeg Jets and Sammy Blais of the St. Louis Blues, February 6, 2020. Shaw signed a two-year contract with the Ottawa Senators in 2020 and plays with the Belleville Senators in the THE H. Photo by Dilip Vishwanat /Getty Images

THE ENIGMA IN THE MIDDLE

A lot can happen before Monday afternoon, but the way things went in Sunday practice, AHL veteran Logan Shaw was in the fourth row spot in the center. Andrew Agozzino, who was also in contention for this opening, was placed on waivers Sunday morning, with the probability that he will not be claimed and that he will end up in Belleville.

“Right now it’s Shaw,” Smith said. “He had a good game (Saturday) night, probably his best game. “

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Shaw, 29, has played a yo-yo between the NHL and the AHL throughout his nine-year professional career, scoring 15 goals and 21 assists in 215 NHL games with Florida, Anaheim, Montreal and Winnipeg.

Smith says there is a temptation to move Nick Paul to center, but that would weaken the Senators’ left side. The Senators have a line from Nick Paul, Shane Pinto and Connor Brown to take on the opposition in any situation.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

Senators general manager Pierre Dorion will also take a hard look at the waiver lists, to see if there might be another center that can fill the void.

“Pierre keeps me posted, but that’s his job,” he says. “At the end of the day, I make the decisions with the coaches and the lines and what happens on the ice. “

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Smith says he “stays in his lane” and lets the screening staff do their job to see “if they think there’s a guy who can help us.”

TALK ABOUT TURKEY

Players and coaches had separate family reunions for Thanksgiving Sunday.

Smith suspected that the conversation at the table could move away from “pass the cranberry sauce, please” to a discussion of the club’s defensive lineup. Only certainty, Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub will start together.

“Nothing is settled,” Smith said. “We’re probably not supposed to be talking about hockey, but we’ll be talking about hockey. … As expected, forwards Egor Sokolov and Mark Kastelic, as well as defenders Lassi Thomson and Dillon Heatherington, were reassigned to Belleville on Sunday.

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