OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators are promising plenty of giveaways Monday on Fan Appreciation Night at Canadian Tire Centre when, in fact, that has been a continuing theme all season.
Whereas paying customers will have the opportunity to walk away with various prizes from the team’s final home game of 2017-18 against the Winnipeg Jets, visitors have far too often left the building with two points in the standings and padded scoring stats.
The Senators (27-40-11) find themselves in 30th place for many reasons, not the least of which is their play in what’s supposed to be the friendliest of confines, where they have won just 16 of 40 games to date and given up 143 goals, second most home-ice goals allowed in the league behind the 147 surrendered by the New York Islanders.
By defeating the Jets, meanwhile, the Senators would tie their longest home ice winning streak of the season, which is two games.
“We’re not going to send any message in one game, but I think we know we have a good group in here,” Senators center Matt Duchene told Postmedia. “There are probably going to be some changes in the summer, but at the same time, the nucleus of this group is a really good one and I know this season won’t be repeated next year.”
The biggest change could be a trade including captain Erik Karlsson, a player the team will look to deal if it can’t find common ground on a contract extension when the sides are officially allowed to begin negotiations July 1.
So Monday could also mark the last game in a Senators jersey at Canadian Tire Centre for the greatest player in franchise history.
If the Senators are going to turn around their fortunes next season, they’ll need to get better at keeping the puck out of their net than the second highest goals against per game number (3.42) they currently boast.
Ottawa will need somebody to step up and give it the type of goaltending Connor Hellebuyck has given Winnipeg this season.
The Jets (48-20-10) clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was yet another steady showing by Hellebuyck, who along with having the second highest win total in the league has a 41-11-9 mark that should make him a strong Vezina Trophy candidate.
The Jets’ four remaining games are against nonplayoff teams, and they do have veteran goalie Steve Mason about ready to return from an 11-game absence with a knee injury. That means Hellebuyck could get some rest this week.
At the same time, coach Paul Maurice wants Hellebuyck to be in his groove for the playoffs.
“It’s been a heavy schedule for him,” Maurice told the Winnipeg Sun, “but he’s feeling strong right now and we need him to play just like that.”
The Senators will remember Hellebuyck from their Dec. 3 meeting, although he only had to make 21 saves in a 5-0 victory in Winnipeg.
The Jets will take the opportunity on Monday to rest one of their regular blue liners and give 21-year-old rookie Sami Niku his NHL debut. Niku, a seventh-round pick, has 15 goals and 52 points in 71 games with Manitoba Moose.