WINNIPEG – The Ottawa Senators decided to give the kids a chance Tuesday night.
If this was a measuring stick, the players the Senators brought here measured up just fine as the club dropped a 5-3 decision to the Winnipeg Jets at the Canada Life Centre.
Coach D.J. Smith told reporters before the puck dropped this was “a perfect time to show who can do it and who can’t.” The 20 players the Senators took the Canada Life Centre accepted the challenge with open arms and gave the stacked Jets team everything it could handle.
Centre Shane Pinto was the best player on the ice for Ottawa while Tyler Motte was a close second. Both scored for the Senators while Cole Reinhardt also chipped in with a goal.
General manager Pierre Dorion, Smith and the rest of the hockey operations can be buoyed by the fact that on paper this one shouldn’t have even been close, bu the Senators showed a strong compete level against Winnipeg.
This test couldn’t have been more difficult for the Senators. The Jets dressed the likes of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti up front while Pierre Luc-Dubois was a spectator. The club also had four of its top defencemen playing.
If it wasn’t tough enough already, Connor Hellebuyck started for the Jets.
Still, this was a good opportunity for the Senators to get a first-hand look at where some of the players in this organization stand and you can’t question the compete-level.
“Five-on-five I thought we played pretty good for spurts,” Smith said. “For them having the lineup they did I thought there was a lot of good efforts by a lot of guys. Hellebuyck was clearly the difference in the end. He made some really good saves.
“I thought we had a great compete level. To be honest, I thought we probably deserved better.”
The likes of Dylan Gambrell, Egor Sokolov and Mark Kastelic are all pushing for jobs up front. On the back end, Erik Brannstrom has a spot locked up, but Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson and Maxence Guenette are trying to stay in the mix.
Connor put this away in the third period by extending the Jets lead to 5-3 with one Ottawa goalie Kevin Mandolese would have wanted back. That came at 8:10 and after a long day of travel the Senators couldn’t get back into this one.
Give this group credit because they refused to back down and the Senators did a good job physically. The Jets should have seized the momentum when they pulled out to a 4-2 lead on Ville Heinola’s goal with 49 seconds remaining in the second period.
Not to be outdone, a line that’s looking good is the trio of Pinto with Mathieu Jospeh and Motte. Pinto and Motte hooked up for the second goal of the night to cut the Jets lead to 4-3 with only 23.5 seconds left in the period.
Motte threw the puck into the circle to Pinto and he beat Hellebuyck. One thing we know is the club has good depth at centre with Pinto and they were on the ice late in the game when Ottawa was trying to get back into the game.
“Overall I thought we played really well,” said Pinto. “Every game I go out there I feel a little bit better. I had the whole year off but I’m definitely feeling more confident with each game.”
The Jets pulled out to a 3-2 lead with 4:49 left in the second period when Daniel Torgersson went to the front of the net and beat Mandolese. It was his second of the game and Mandolese was struggling to keep the puck out of his net.
Belleville starter Mads Sogaard started and left with 10:12 left in the second with Ottawa ahead 2-1. The plan was for him to play half the game, but the Senators were playing so well in front of him he only faced nine shots through nearly 30 minutes.
The Jets tied it up 2-2 at 13:44 of the second on the power play. Michael Eyssimont was able to tip a Connor shot by Mandolese with Tyler Boucher in the box.
Breaking in on a 2-on-1, Pinto threw a pass across the slot to Motte, who beat Hellebuyck for his second of the preseason on short side at 7:40 of the second to give the Senators a 2-1 advantage.
Later in the period, Hellebuyck made a huge stop on Pinto on a feed from Motte.
The first-period effort by the Senators is you never know what’s going to happen once the puck drops. The Senators did a good job applying the pressure on the Jets, winning battles for loose pucks and competing.
Only 40 seconds after the Jets pulled out to a 2-0 lead, Reinhardt scored a beauty by knocking down a pass from Dylan Gambrell and beating Hellebuyck. In alone, Reinhardt was able to get off a quick shot that went top shelf on the stick side at 14:35.
Torgersson opened the scoring at 13:55 with a one-timer on a pass from Connor that beat Sogaard on the glove side. Torgersson had just come out of the penalty box and while the Senators had good pressure on the power play they didn’t have many shots.
“I thought our guys played really well,” said veteran centre Derick Brassard. “Every day we’re trying to get better and better. I thought we played pretty good.”
The Senators will face the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night at CAA Arena in Belleville.