NHL Hockey

Senators glimpsing future before meeting Leafs

The Ottawa Senators will continue to showcase their future Saturday night when they play the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, who are hoping to stay in the present playoff chase.

The Senators, who are out of the playoffs, defeated the St. Louis Blues 2-0 Thursday night and hinted at what might be in coming years when a couple of well-regarded players -- Max Veronneau and Erik Brannstrom -- made impressive NHL debuts.

Anders Nilsson stopped 35 stops for his sixth career shutout and second with the Senators to end the team's five-game losing streak at home.

"We're playing to win, but it's fun to motivate yourself with the spoiler idea on home ice, and for (Nilsson) to get the shutout, it's a fun night," said defenseman Christian Wolanin, who scored a goal for Ottawa.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are also coming off a win that ended a losing streak. They beat the Philadelphia Flyers 7-6 on Friday in Toronto after overcoming a 5-2 deficit.

The victory ended a two-game skid, also at home: 6-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning and 5-4 to the Chicago Blackhawks, losses that exposed defensive deficiencies that will need to be repaired for the playoffs.

At least they did make a game of it against late in third period against the Blackhawks, nearly coming all the way back from a 5-0 deficit.

"The bottom line is we came back from the road, we thought we were playing real well and we haven't got back to that level," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Wednesday after the loss to Chicago. "We've got to get back to that level."

Maple Leafs players had a meeting before practice Thursday as they prepared to meet the Flyers.

"I didn't really say that much," said Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, who was replaced by Garret Sparks during each of the past two games. "We know we can do a better job and come out and support each other better. We do have success when we make it easier for each other, and I think that's something we have got to get back to.

"When you go through tough travel, a lot of different players, it's extra important that we help each other out, and it's not that we don't have that. We just have to find it again, and that's what I talked about," Andersen said.

Veronneau signed with Ottawa as a free agent Tuesday from the Princeton Tigers. He played more than 14 minutes and had five shots on goal.

The Senators were short on defense because Mark Borowiecki was ill and Christian Jaros was injured, so Brannstrom was called up from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville, Ontario. He was the centerpiece in the deal that sent Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline.

But the difference in the game Thursday was Nilsson.

"I thought our goalie was our best player, and he was the main reason we got the win, but he wasn't the only reason," Senators interim coach Marc Crawford said. "That was a spectacular game for Anders Nilsson. He made five or six really excellent saves."

Craig Anderson could get the start in the Ottawa goal Saturday. The Senators need to make a decision on Nilsson because he can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"We said we're going to play both of them, and we're still evaluating on Nilsson," Crawford said. "Every opportunity he gets to play is another chance for him to play in front of our management and our people. He's played very well, and I thought he's played some games where he's been the most important factor in some of the wins that he's had."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 15, 2019

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