For Thomas Chabot and the rest of the Ottawa Senators, the opening three games have been all about experimentation: hits and misses, trial and error, a dose of this, a dab of that.
Or, in the words of Matt Duchene after the 1-1-1 start, “a mixed bag of everything.”
The underlying tone has even extended off ice.
In a fun, goofy, successful attempt at deadpan humour put out by the Senators in-house video team setting up Monday’s game against Boston, Chabot found himself playing the role of straight man.
“I had no clue what we were talking about, to be honest, but I thought it was pretty fun and I’m glad people enjoyed it,” Chabot said Wednesday, in advance of Thursday’s game against Philadelphia at Canadian Tire Centre. “I saw all the people laughing (on social media) and having fun with it, so it worked out well.” It was a calculated gamble in what figures to be a season full of them during the rebuilding process, with countless ups and downs along the way.
The long weekend games were a case in point. Chabot was the star of stars in Saturday’s 5-3 victory over Toronto, scoring twice, adding an assist and registering a plus/minus rating of plus four. In Monday’s 6-3 loss to Boston, though, Chabot was part of a squad that simply made too many mistakes to stay in the game, letting Patrice Bergeron and company take control.
“When we looked back at the video, those were team mistakes, those (errors) we can get out of our game and get better at,” Chabot said. “We’re pretty happy with the way we’re going.”
Make no mistake about it, the Senators are a long way away from even thinking about battling for a playoff spot. It will remain that way until coach Guy Boucher can find a pair or pairs of reliable defencemen that can consistently keep top opposition lines from dominating inside the Senators blue line.
But in a year which is centred around growth and developing for a brighter tomorrow, the young wave of players is not paralyzed with the fear of making a mistake. That is a big change from the 2016-17 and 2017-18 versions of the squad, coached by Boucher.
“(Chabot) is finally confident in being able to make the plays that he knows he can make,” said alternate captain Mark Stone. “When he first stuck with the team out of training camp (two years ago), he kind of just made the play he was told to make. When you’re young and trying to make the team, you’re trying to not make mistakes, instead of maybe playing the way that got you here. (Now), he has made the plays that have helped our team win a lot of games.”
The on-the-job training has also allowed fellow defenceman Max Lajoie to relax as he finds his feet in the NHL.
“They’re making me learn from my mistakes, which is nice,” said Lajoie, who scored in the season opening 4-3 shootout loss to Chicago, his NHL debut. “Because if you make a mistake and you get sat (out), your confidence goes down pretty quick.”
Boucher will continue tinkering with this, that and other thing as the Senators kick off their five-game homestand against Claude Giroux and the Flyers.
For now, Chabot’s defensive partner is Dylan DeMelo, while Lajoie will play with Cody Ceci. Mark Borowiecki and Chris Wideman represent another tandem, as Boucher tries, desperately, to find at least one solid defender on each pair.
Up front, Brady Tkachuk will play on a line with Matt Duchene and Mikkel Boedker, while Ryan Dzingel skates alongside Zack Smith and Mark Stone. Boucher likes the looks of Alex Formenton on a trio with Chris Tierney and Bobby Ryan. The unit of Colin White, Magnus Paajarvi and Tom Pyatt could see match-up duty against the Flyers top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek.
“I need to try things to see what I’ve got,” said Boucher.
Let the experiments continue.