Canada’s Funniest Team, The Ottawa Senators, Are Up To Their Old Tricks
2:09 PM EST on December 5, 2021
It's actually not as hard to explain my fascination with the Ottawa Senators as you might think, provided the person I'm explaining to has a least a general familiarity with Canadian hockey dynamics and the long-lasting power of the Maple Leafs and the Habs. "I just think there's something inherently really funny about the Ottawa Senators beating the Montreal Canadiens," I'll tell them, and it usually clicks. It's near-universally funny in the way that, like, everyone laughs at Tom Hardy having a breakdown and hopping in a lobster tank at a fancy restaurant in Venom. It's always great to see a stumbling, random weirdo completely disrupt an institution that loves to think of itself as proud and upstanding, and that's exactly what the Senators, founded in 1992, do when they can sneak away with a win against a franchise that's won the Stanley Cup 24 times.
But now that NHL teams are flying all over the continent again, and this particular rebuilding iteration of the Ottawa Senators is no longer confined to just Canada like they were in the 2020-21 season, I may have to expand my phrasing just a little bit. There's something still inherently really funny about, like, the Sens beating the significantly more talented Leafs on the first night of the season. But it turns out it's just as fun to see them stagger into a takedown of an American Cup contender. They've now done just that twice in the past three days.
Make no mistake: Even if they already had almost no shot at the playoffs at the outset, this has still been an especially horrible start to the season for a young Sens team with a lot of high-ceiling guys at the beginnings of their careers. Heading into Thursday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes, they were a dreadful 4-15-1 and were riding a six-game losing streak, with 12 losses in their last 13. The most notable and exciting thing about their year so far was their captain being bitten by an L.A. King—still funny, but in a different, ultimately less satisfying way.
But the chaotic Sens that I love showed up in a major way against the Canes as they picked up their first points in nearly three weeks. Of course, it was the fringe NHL goalie Anton Forsberg who delivered the 3-2 win for Ottawa. The Hurricanes outshot the Sens by a ridiculous 49-20 margin, but Forsberg ended a lengthy cold spell and stopped a career high 47 of those, tying the franchise record for most saves in a win and absolutely infuriating a team that's actually going to be playing meaningful games into the spring.
And at the start of a crazy final 11 minutes of the game that saw both teams score twice, the 22-year-old winger Alex Formenton got credited with his second goal of the night on an absolute mess of a play. Tyler Ennis took a shot, Canes goalie Antti Raanta made the save, Formenton got tripped into a slide tackle of Raanta by Andrei Svechnikov, and with the net unprotected the puck hit off the stick of Formenton, then off the skate of Carolina forward Marty Necas, and finally past the line. This is how the Sens can humiliate you.
The ol' "screw everything up around the net and make the other team really mad" strategy worked to perfection again on Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche. Tim Stützle, the Sens' intriguing teenager who'd been slumping something awful to start the year, kickstarted his scoring with another weird-as-hell goal early in the second period. Stützle got the puck at center ice and came in hot towards the net, only to lose his balance when he got bumped by Avs defender Jack Johnson. Much like Formenton in the previous game, Stützle wiped out into Jonas Johansson to take the goalie out of the play, but this time, the puck didn't need any extra help to get across for a goal. Even with the net pushed off its moorings, it found its way home to make the game 3-2, Ottawa. I call this particularly entertaining brand of disorder Sentropy.
But that's not all! Despite losing the lead in the third period, the Senators still forced overtime with the game five apiece, and then they made the three-on-three time count. The young face of the Sens, Brady Tkachuk, stole a pass from the more established face of the Avs, Nathan MacKinnon, and then found himself with a clear path to victory. As if the bite from Brendan Lemieux gave him superpowers, Tkachuk broke free down the ice and gorgeously flipped a shot into the top part of the net to send the sickos into a frenzy. Colorado began this year as most folks' favorite to win the Cup, but after this defeat to Ottawa I think we should disqualify them completely. What an awesome hockey game.
It's incredible how every single Senators win feels like stealing fire from the Gods—like defying an ironclad law of the universe for one little thrill even as you know eternal torment waits around the corner. When you turn on the Sens, there's at least a 7-in-10 chance that you're setting yourself up for an ugly loss. But that other 30 percent ... man, that's something special. There's just nothing like a bunch of inexperienced and replacement-level guys on a consistently mismanaged and little-loved franchise pulling it together to get one over on a more confident, impressive, and respected opponent. Even if it can only happen a few times a month.