OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators dressing room was almost empty after their 2-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, captain Erik Karlsson doing one last media scrum.
Karlsson’s stall is opposite the door into the room, in the middle of the far wall, kind of like at the head of the table.
As Karlsson spoke, winger Alex Burrows, who had done a wave of interviews after his two-goal performance in his Senators debut, finally bent over to take off his skates. His stall was halfway down the wall to Karlsson’s left, another significant position in the room.
In the culture of the NHL dressing room, those stalls are typically reserved for leaders, putting them in the middle of the dressing room discussion. Earlier this season, Senators coach Guy Boucher moved wing Mark Stone from a corner into that neighbourhood because he wanted Stone to be heard.
On the ice and off, it’s all about positioning. Burrows found himself in a good and important spot in his debut.
Burrows quickly fit in nicely both on the ice and off since being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks for prospect Jonathan Dahlen, a second round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, on Monday.
He took some good natured ribbing from his new teammates when he came to the bench after scoring his first goal on his first shot on net with the Senators. It was a shot from 38 feet which might have been tipped by Colorado defenceman Patrick Wiercioch or misplayed by goaltender Calvin Pickard.
“The boys said it was a heavy shot. They thought it was really heavy, they were surprised how heavy it was,” Burrows said. “I’m sure the boys were making fun of me.”
Burrows scored his second goal on a better shot from 35 feet in the second period, showing the kind of form that saw him average 29 goals a season from 2008-12, his knee dipping down to the ice.
So what’s Burrows’ potential offensive upside in this next chapter of his hockey life? He’s going to have good players around him with the Senators.
Mike Hoffman assisted on both of Burrows’ goals, but they didn’t play on the same line. Both goals came in the midst of line changes. Burrows played most of the night with Stone and Derick Brassard.
Hoffman was on a line with Kyle Turris and Zack Smith. Turris, who has a finger injury, didn’t take any faceoffs again, leaving that job to Smith. Once Turris is healthy and Bobby Ryan returns from a broken finger, there will likely be some more shuffling.
When Ryan is back, the Senators top six will be Stone, Turris, Hoffman, Brassard, Burrows and Ryan. Smith could be dropped down to the third line with Ryan Dzingel and Jean-Gabriel to push Pyatt to the fourth line with Viktor Stalberg and Tommy Wingels.
Maybe it’s Ryan that comes back on the third line. The point is Burrows is going to have some quality linemates no matter where he winds up.
Can he take advantage of it? He did on Thursday. Two things stood out for me in looking at Burrows on Thursday night. First off, even though his first goal was a bit of a softy, the play started when he showed good hands in making a correction to take a puck off the boards. Hoffman had whipped a cross ice pass that bounced off Burrows’ blade and caromed off the boards just inside the Colorado blue line.
The puck came off the boards close to Burrows’ toes, but he made a nice adjustment to get the puck on his backhand and get in position to shoot. On that play he looked like he still has some hands.
His second score was just some good goal scoring, reacting to Hoffman stripping the puck from Colorado defenceman Mark Barberio and getting in position to deliver a dangerous shot off Hoffman’s feed.
Burrows shooting percentage in his peak years with the Canucks was around 16 percent, almost double the league average (about nine percent). It has been in decline, but was as high as 12.4 percent in 2015. It was 7.9 percent with the Canucks this season. It will be interesting to see if he can grow that with the Senators. He’s obviously off to a good start, scoring on two of his three shots.
So Burrows looks like he’s still got some skills and he sounds invigorated by the change after 12 years in Vancouver. He’s landed in the middle of a playoff race. That should bring some energy to his game. It helps, too, having his parents and friends in the stands having made the trip from near Montreal.
“I like the way we played,” he said. “There’s a lot of good players here and if we play the right way, we’ll have some success. Tonight was definitely a step in the right direction. For me personally, playing with some good players, they find me, making good plays. Got a couple of pucks towards the net.
“The first one was pretty lucky, the second one I think it went through the D-man’s legs. It was a seeing eye shot. We’ll take those. The biggest thing is we found a way to get a big win. That’s why I’m here.”
It will be interesting to see how much Burrows’ opening performance was because of that new team smell and the fact the Senators were playing the last place team in the NHL.
But there were a couple of flashes there that raise the possibility Burrows could have an impact in the Senators top six group.
You will get a better idea when they play the Columbus Blue Jackets who are in second place in the tough Metropolitan Division, on Saturday.
Chris Stevenson has covered the NHL and the Senators since 1988, most recently for NHL.com and as an analyst for TSN 1200.