If the Ottawa Senators have been good for anything this year, it’s having guys find moments of ecstasy during their first taste of real NHL action. Stutzle, Zub, Gustavsson—those are just a few of the names that have contributed despite their inexperience for Ottawa in 2021. And after his first career NHL goal on Wednesday night against the Canadiens, Shane Pinto can confidently add his name to that list.
Pinto, the 20-year-old Hobey Baker finalist out of the University of North Dakota, opened the scoring in a breezy 5-1 win for the Sens against a Habs team that had won three straight and is still trying to officially clinch its playoff spot (and, incidentally, features hotshot rookie Cole Caufield, who beat out Pinto for the Hobey.) Playing in his ninth career NHL game since debuting on April 17, Pinto was in the right place (in front of the crease) at the right time (11:35 of the first period) and was able to tap in a rebound off an Artem Zub slapshot to give his Sens a 1-0 lead.
“I wasn’t gripping the stick too tight, but I definitely wanted to get my first one pretty soon,” Pinto said. “I’m happy it came and hopefully I can just keep building from there.”
Pinto’s goal didn’t quite set the Senators on a clearcut path to victory. Montreal got their lone goal late in the period to make it 1-1 at the first intermission, and though Josh Norris sliced through the defense and then made a sweet pass to Brady Tkachuk, most of the middle 20 was played with the Senators clinging to a one-goal lead. Ottawa, however, grabbed all the momentum heading into the final period when, with eight seconds to go in the second, Nick Paul just barely deflected an Erik Brannstrom shot from the point enough to confound Jake Allen and make it 3-1.
A cross-ice one-timer from Zub to Connor Brown, and then a breakaway goal by Alex Formenton, gave the game its final scoreline.
A couple of other firsts for the Sens last night: Brannstrom’s three assists got him his first multi-point game in the NHL, while Zub earned himself his first multi-assist game. Both these skaters, who have less than a full season’s worth of NHL games under their belt, have been emblematic of these last few weeks for the Sens, where guys who in most cases would struggle to rent a car have become cult heroes and given fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the future.
“We played a hard game and played within our structure,” said Sens goalie Anton Forsberg, who signed a contract extension before going out and making 30 saves. “We created a lot of scoring chances with a good forecheck and putting pucks deep and I thought we played a solid game out there.”
With the win, the Sens finish their year an impressive 6-3-1 against the fourth-place Canadiens, and they’ve now won eight of their last 11 down the stretch of a season in which these youngsters have nothing to play for but their own pride. They’ll meet Winnipeg and Calgary over the weekend, before finishing off a year with a surprising number of positives against the Leafs next Wednesday. The future in Ottawa looks brighter than the recent past.