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Somebody I Used to Know: Blackhawks at Senators

It’s finally time to face the Ottawa DeBrincats.

Chicago Blackhawks v Ottawa Senators Photo by Chris Tanouye/NHLI via Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks will be playing their final game in a four-game Canadian road trip as they take on the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on Friday night — you know, that team that has former Blackhawks sweetheart Alex DeBrincat on it.

Prior to this season, the Senators were looking like a potentially up-and-coming team, having picked up stars like DeBrincat and Claude Giroux to supplement their own homegrown talent like Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Jake Sanderson, and Thomas Chabot.

It looked to all be for naught as Ottawa lost 13 of their first 20 games out the gate, but it’s steadily improved as the season progressed: the Senators are near the top 10 in every shot share statistic and have jumped from a lackluster .445 points percentage last season to .519 currently. That surge is especially strong of late, with Ottawa winning six of its last seven games.

The Senators are still seven points outside of a wild card spot with at least five teams ahead of them in the standings, so their playoff hopes still aren’t particularly bright, but they’re a formidable team that could rise in the future.

The Senators recently won back-to-back games against the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders. Both games required extra hockey — Ottawa beat Calgary 4-3 in overtime on Monday and New York 3-2 in the shootout on Tuesday — but the Senators were the slightly better team when it came to quality chances at 5-on-5, owning a 50.54 and 52.04 percent share of the expected goals in each game, respectively. That’s been the story for them in most of their recent games, as they only dipped below the 50 percent mark for quality chances once in their last seven games during their upswing.

As expected, Tkachuk and Stützle lead the Senators offensively: Tkachuk has just a slight lead in points with 56 (22 G, 34 A) in comparison to Stützle’s 55 (24 G, 31 A), though the latter has played in four fewer games. Giroux falls right behind them with 21 goals and 28 assists. All three of these players also lead the team, by far, in points over their last 10 games: Stützle has 15 points in that span, Tkachuk 14, and Giroux 11. Bratherson with 16 goals and Chabot with 22 assists fill in two of the top-six spots in terms of points on the season.

Rounding out the top-six for the Senators is DeBrincat, who is tied for fourth best on the team while having a decent season — but not quite as prolific as expected. He’s currently producing at the third lowest rate of his short career with 44 points (18 G, 26 A) in 53 games, which puts him on a 68-point pace — 10 points shy of his final output from last season. However, DeBrincat also had five points in his last five games during the Senators’ surge, so there’s a chance he reach his totals from a year ago.

Hell, he could make up a chunk of that distance against the Blackhawks on Friday, depending on the goalie in net — especially if he’s starting to score goals like this on the regular again:

Despite a more than solid top-six unit, the Senators do have a scoring issue at 5-on-5, as they have been mostly unable to consistently convert their quality chances — 2.86 expected goals per 60, good for ninth best in the league — into goals — just 2.06 per 60, third worst in the league. They make up for it with the second best power play (26.5 percent) but scoring at even strength has been a struggle.

In net, the Senators had been rotating between Cam Talbot and Anton Forsberg most of the season, but both are injured: Talbot has been out with a lower-body injury since Jan. 25 and Forsberg had his season likely ended after he suffered MCL tears in both his knees (!!) on Feb 11. As a result, Ottawa has two rookie options in 22-year-olds Mads Sogaard and Kevin Mandolese, who were the winning goalie against the Flames and Islanders, respectively. Both had sub .900 save-percentages with the Belleville Senators before being recalled, but both did well in their NHL debuts while facing 37 and 46 shots, respectively.

The Senators will also be without forward Josh Norris (shoulder surgery) and defensemen Jake Sanderson (undisclosed) Friday night.

Tale of the Tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Senators

43.03% (32nd) — Corsi For — 51.35% (10th)

40.61% (31st) — Expected goals for — 51.90% (11th)

2.40 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.00 (23rd)

3.64 (28th) — Goals against per game — 3.21 (20th)

55.6% (1st) — Faceoffs — 51.7% (11th)

17.7% (26th) — Power play — 26.5% (2nd)

76.1% (23rd) — Penalty kill — 80.5% (15th)

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa

TV: NBC Sports Chicago