Struggling Senators visit blossoming Maple Leafs
The Ottawa Senators will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night in the next episode of what has become known as the Battle of Ontario.
As far as the league standings are concerned, it is no contest.
The Senators (19-28-5, 43 points), losers of four in a row, rank 31st overall in the NHL, while the Maple Leafs (32-17-3, 67) are second in the Eastern Conference.
"It's not fun," Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki said. "This is my city, my team, I grew up here, and it sucks being around town when you're in last place. You don't like talking about it or making excuses for it, but there's no one to blame but ourselves in here. As an organization, we all need to be better. The challenge now, going forward, is what do we do to make us better as a team and as an organization?"
The Senators visit Scotiabank Arena after losing 2-0 to the Detroit Red Wings at home on Saturday.
There is a different atmosphere around the Maple Leafs, who defeated the listless Anaheim Ducks 6-1 in Toronto on Monday.
They announced big news Tuesday with the signing of center Auston Matthews to a five-year, $58.17 million deal, making the 21-year-old the second-highest-paid player in the NHL ($11.634 million annually) behind only Edmonton's Connor McDavid ($12.5 million). Matthews' teammate, John Tavares, now ranks third on that list at $11 million.
The Leafs have also been bolstered by a trade with the Los Angeles Kings that brought them defenseman Jake Muzzin, who has impressed in his first three games, which included a one-goal-two-assists performance Monday.
"He's really good in his own zone, denies the back, makes a good outlet pass, he's a big body and plays real hard between the whistles," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously, with his experience and the kind of man he is, he's going to make us a better team."
The Senators have won the only meeting between the teams this season, 5-3 in Toronto on Oct. 6.
They have been going in opposite directions since.
"It's been a frustrating year," Senators center Zack Smith told the Ottawa Sun. "They talked about rebuilding right from the start, but we wanted to be in the mix at this time of the year, and we're quite a ways out. It's tough. Everyone wants to do better. When the team is doing well, guys are personally doing well, so when you're losing as many games as we have, it's tough on everyone."
The Senators have 30 games remaining to extract something from the season.
"There's a lot of hockey, we've just got to work on getting better and coming together as a team," Smith said. "It's different than last year. I think that management likes the group we have here and we know we can do some good things moving forward."
The final two meetings in the season series between the Senators and the Maple Leafs will be played in Ottawa on March 16 and 30.
By then, the Maple Leafs know they will be gearing up for what they hope is a long playoff run as they pursue their first Stanley Cup championship since 1967.
Muzzin knows what it is like to win the Cup with the Kings and can contribute to the Maple Leafs in many ways, including body checking and his shooting ability.
He stirred the crowd Monday with a big hit on Anaheim's Corey Perry near the end of the second period. Muzzin drew a retaliatory cross-checking penalty as a result from Nick Ritchie. On the ensuing power play, Muzzin scored his first goal as a Maple Leaf on a slap shot from the point.
Maple Leafs left winger Andreas Johnsson, who had two goals and two assists Mondays, appreciates the impact Muzzin can have.
"It's huge, you have a couple big hits now in the beginning and it's going to create space for skilled guys," Johnsson said. "I think that was a part we didn't have before, and he's been doing a great job since coming here so far."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 5, 2019