There have been few causes for celebration this season for the Ottawa Senators, who sit at the bottom of the North Division standings.
Connor Brown’s franchise-record goal-scoring run is an exception.
When the Senators host the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, Brown will look to extend his seven-game goal spree for a Senators team that is slogging through a four-game losing skid and have just one win in their past seven games (1-5-1).
Brown lit the lamp in Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, which put him past the six-game goal streaks of Drake Batherson this season, Bob Kudelski (1993), Daniel Alfredsson (2007), Dany Heatley (2007) and Jason Spezza (2010).
“It means a lot, to be honest,” Brown said. “I feel like I’ve grinded pretty hard in my career. There’s been times I’ve been a checker and I’ve had a really good opportunity here under D.J. [coach D.J. Smith]. He’s let me play offensively and find my game, and I really feel like I’m finding it more and more. Last season I found it and I feel like I’m finding it another step this season.”
Although they’re destined to finish well outside of the playoffs, the Senators don’t want to simply play out the string over their final 14 games. They can make a mark on the playoff picture, whether by quashing an opponent’s hopes or impacting a team’s playoff position, as is their opportunity with a pair of games against the Jets.
Losing on Saturday stung as it was an opportunity to slow their Ontario rivals, who are starting to pull away from the pack.
“A lot of learning lessons,” Smith said. “You get a lead – you’ve got to protect it. We were careless with the puck against their top line, and they burn you. We fought to the end, but you’ve got to take care of the puck a lot better against some of the best players in the league.”
Winnipeg, which is coming off a 5-0 win at Montreal on Saturday that gave the Jets a two-game sweep of the Canadiens, is in a dogfight with the Edmonton Oilers for second spot in the division.
The Jets, who have won five of six meetings with the Senators this season, have picked a good time to elevate their game. They’re riding a three-game winning streak and are on a 7-2-1 run.
A big part of their improved play has been goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who on Saturday reached the 20-win mark for the fifth consecutive season. He called the win a “team shutout” but Hellebuyck has surrendered just 13 goals in his past nine games.
“He’s world-class, so the bench starts getting excited for him because you appreciate what he does for us,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “You get into that third period and nobody wants to be the guy that costs Helly a shutout. He means so much to us, so we’re still blocking shots in the third period and that’s a direct affection that the players have for the goalie and what he does for them.”
“I think the best part of the game was, for us, that we improved from our first game in here,” Maurice added. “We had given up a fair amount off the rush. And we were much, much better at it. I also think we got stronger with it as the game went on. The areas that we thought we needed to improve from Game 1, we did.”