The Senators announced their leadership group Wednesday for their first season since 2014-15 that Karlsson has not worn the ‘C’ in Ottawa. Forwards Mark Stone and Matt Duchene will serve as alternate captains, while defenceman Mark Borowiecki and forward Zack Smith, who remains with the team after being placed on waivers in training camp, will alternate wearing an ‘A’ on the road and home respectively.
The Senators are coming off their worst season in over a decade as they open their 2018-19 campaign Thursday night home against the Chicago Blackhawks. Ottawa finished second-last in the NHL last year while enduring a litany of off-ice incidents. Last month the team traded Karlsson, who led or tied the team in scoring the past five years, to the San Jose Sharks.
With third-leading scorer Mike Hoffman also on the move after being traded first to San Jose and then Florida, not much is expected this season of the remaining Senators. But Stone said he’s looking forward to the challenge of proving the naysayers wrong.
“I think we’ve all but been written off by you guys (media),” Stone said. “I think it’s a good start for us to get our engines rolling. We’re excited to start (Thursday). Everybody starts at zero and zero from what I believe, so we’re excited to get this season going and see what we have in this locker room.”
Senators coach Guy Boucher said one of the keys for the Senators this season will be to filter the outside noise.
“We have to look at how we can grow, not how the millions of people out there would like a certain individual or the group to grow,” Boucher said. “The players are professionals, but they’re all individuals who will struggle with parts of that and other things. That’s what’s hard, is to come on the ice focused only on the task at hand.”
Borowiecki said the Senators can bond as they work to distance themselves from all the bad headlines.
“It’s try to win in spite of those things and kind of use them as rallying points and really try to use them to come together in this room and band together,” Borowiecki said. “We need to have that underdog mentality a little bit I think and usually when you have that you take the pressure off yourself and play a little bit better.”
In July, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said the team had a “broken” locker room last season, something the new leadership group plans to address.
“For me the most important is just lead by example both on and off the ice,” Smith said. “We have some very smart hockey guys in our leadership core and I think my strength is probably just to lead by example with work ethic throughout practice and help them along if you see they’re having a tough time with something. That’s our job to pick them up.”
The Senators will have a number of new additions in the lineup Thursday night, including Chris Tierney and Dylan DeMelo, acquired in the Karlsson trade, Mikkel Boedker, acquired in the Hoffman trade, as well as rookie defenceman Maxime Lajoie, who will make his NHL debut.
Lajoie had an excellent camp and earned the opportunity to play on opening night.
“He’s shown so much poise and so much calm in the face of all kinds of pressure on the ice,” said Guy Boucher.
The Senators will be without Brady Tkachuk. Ottawa’s first round pick is dealing with a minor groin sprain and every precaution is being taken to ensure the young winger doesn’t miss an extended period of time.
Craig Anderson will get the start in goal.