Senators look to bounce back against Connor Bedard and the Hawks

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The Ottawa Senators have reinforcements on the way as they prepare to faceoff against Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks.

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Before heading off to the Windy City Friday afternoon, defencemen Jake Sanderson and Artem Zub were both full participants in the club’s skate Friday at the Canadian Tire Centre and both are expected to suit up against the Hawks at the United Center Saturday afternoon.

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“They’re two of our top four (defencemen) and to have them back is great,” Ottawa coach Jacques Martin said Friday.

Sanderson, who left the club’s 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 1 with a lower body ailment, hasn’t suited up in three straight games since the club returned from its 10-day break.

As for Zub, he missed two straight games with undisclosed ailment he suffered last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Artem Zub, Ottawa Senators
Artem Zub (2) of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 21, 2024. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu /GETTY IMAGES

He wasn’t able to suit up Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Senators were forced to play with only five blueliners because they didn’t have cap space to make a recall.

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After league officials spoke with the club’s medical staff, the Senators were allowed to recall Max Guenette from their American Hockey League affiliate in Belleville to play in Thursday’s 5-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Judging by the defensive pairings, Erik Brannstrom will be a healthy scratch against the Hawks.

The Senators held a short skate before boarding their Air Canada Jetz charter to Chicago to start a three-game road trip that will continue Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The loss to the Ducks was ugly and embarrassing because the Senators didn’t even give themselves a chance to win. Ottawa didn’t win any battles for loose pucks, went 0-for-4 with the man-advantage and the Senators allowed Anaheim to score on both of its power play opportunities.

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Anaheim Ducks vs. Ottawa Senators
Anaheim Ducks left wing Max Jones (49) attempts a shot on Ottawa Senators goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) during the second period of regular season NHL hockey action in Ottawa, on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Photo by Spencer Colby /POSTMEDIA

Martin didn’t pull any punches in his assessment of the effort against the Ducks when he spoke with the media Friday.

“I didn’t like our game last night,” he said. “I was honest with them, I think we’ve got to pick up our work ethic. We’ve got to be better, we’ve got to pay attentions to details and execute. That starts in practice.

“We don’t practice long but we’re looking for good execution and good tempo. We’ve just got to make sure we’re better prepared and we’re ready to play tomorrow.”

The best bet is to turn the page and move on because the Senators weren’t any good whatsoever against the Ducks. To make matters worse, Joonas Korpisalo had a terrible performance by allowing five goals on 20 shots, which adds up to a .750 save-percentage.

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No team in the NHL is going win with that kind of goaltending and this happened just when we thought Korpisalo was about to find his game.

The task against the Hawks will be a little more difficult with Bedard, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2023 draft, back in the Chicago lineup.

He suited up in Chicago’s 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday at home for the first time since he suffered a broken jaw Jan. 5 against the New Jersey Devils. That was a surprise because Bedard wasn’t expected to suit up this week, but got medical clearance earlier in the day.

“They told me I was ready to go (Thursday) so I was pretty excited,” Bedard said. “I’ve been skating for four weeks now and I felt confident coming in because of that. I was fortunate to be able to work out and skate the whole time.”

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Bedard played 21 minutes and 17 seconds in his return.

“Energy felt good,” Bedard said. “It was good to be back. I want to play games. I mean it’s frustrating watching and you can’t be out there with your guys and try and help them win and go to battle with them. It’s what I love to do. It’s all I really want, so it’s nice to be back.”

Chicago coach Luke Richardson, an Ottawa native and former Senators’ assistant coach, liked what he saw from Bedard.

“He’s really worked on his conditioning, and it showed (against Pittsburgh),” Richardson said. “I didn’t see any drop-off. I thought he was ready to go in the second half of that game. So when there were opportunities to get him out there a little bit more, I tried to do that.

“He was good. So that’s a good start for him and hopefully we can build on that as a team and get better next game.”

Bedard missed 14 games with the injury, but he’s still at the top of the NHL’s rookie scoring list with 15 goals and 34 points in 40 games. The club went 3-10-1 without him in the lineup.

“He’s a special player with a special shot,” Sanderson said. “You can’t really bite on him so you’ve got to be patient with him.”

We’ll see if the Senators have better bite than they did against the Ducks.

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

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