Senators test rebuild against defending champ Blues

Field Level Media

The rebuilding Ottawa Senators will seek early progress when they host the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

The Senators are rebuilding around young defensemen Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom, and forwards Brady Tkachuk (who has two goals in two games) and Colin White.

After losing their first two games, the Senators bolstered their supporting cast by acquiring forward Vladislav Namestnikov from the New York Rangers for defenseman Nick Ebert and a fourth-round pick in 2021.

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Namestnikov joins Artem Anisimov, Tyler Ennis and Connor Brown in the veteran forward group for first-year coach D.J. Smith. That buys prospects such as Drake Batherson and Logan Brown more developmental time at the AHL farm team in Belleville, Ont.

"We have a plan, and we want to make sure we stick to the plan," Senators general manager Pierre Dorion told reporters Tuesday.

"The reason we made this trade -- and we personally thought it was going to happen before the season and the two losses haven't affected anything we've done here -- because our long-term vision is to make sure our younger players develop properly in Belleville.

"And, at the same time, we don't want them to lose confidence. We want to make sure when they're playing for the Ottawa Senators, they can give us their best hockey possible. That not only helps this team, but it shows our fans that we're doing it the right way."

The Blues are off to a 2-0-1 start, with victories over Dallas at home and at Toronto on the first leg of a four-game road trip. An early challenge for coach Craig Berube is integrating defenseman Justin Faulk, a preseason acquisition from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Most recently Faulk, a right-handed shot, paired with Vince Dunn, a left-handed shot.

"You got lefty-righty, both of them move the puck well," Berube told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "In the offensive zone, they create quite a bit with their shot and their elusiveness."

With Faulk and Dunn together, Alex Pietrangelo reunited with Carl Gunnarsson, and Colton Parayko stayed with his regular partner, Jay Bouwmeester. Berube has also used Faulk with Pietrangelo, a right-handed shooter who moves to the left side for that pairing.

"Last year, the 'D' pairings weren't always so stable, there was a lot of changes," Dunn said. "And looks like it's going to be that way this year maybe. I think we're always prepared for whoever we're gonna be playing with, and we just need to be able to adapt."

With forward Robert Thomas sidelined with an upper-body injury, Zach Sanford plugged into the third line with Tyler Bozak and Robby Fabbri. Thomas was back at practice Wednesday.

The Blues have been led this season by the line of Ryan O'Reilly (three assists) centering Sammy Blais (two goals, two assists) and David Perron (one goal, two assists).

Jordan Binnington started the first three games in goal for the Blues; this game could be a good opportunity for back-up Jake Allen. Allen was 11-8-6 on the road last season with 2.26 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

The Senators will give goaltender Anders Nilsson his first start of the season. He was 14-19-1 last season with a 2.97 GAA, playing 12 games with Vancouver before being traded to Ottawa.

--Field Level Media

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