Senators’ game rounding back into shape

by Nicole Del Villano | AHL On The Beat Archive

The beginning of the 2014-15 season for the Binghamton Senators has been a different path than the team from a year ago. After leading the entire AHL in goals scored last year, the reigning 2013-14 East Division champions find themselves in search of the potent offense that tortured opponents.

With Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Mark Borowiecki now in Ottawa playing for the parent NHL Senators and Stephane Da Costa and Jim O’Brien leaving overseas, the B-Sens will need to lean on their young, developing talent to take over.

Despite a slow start to their season with a 7-8-2-1 record, that transition is showing signs of paying off.

“Usually pride takes over,” head coach Luke Richardson said. “For 99.9 percent of the guys, even if they are feeling the NHL blues, pride takes over and [in the end] they are professional athletes. They are competitors. I usually do not have too much of a problem motivating the guys.”

One player that has stepped up to fill the void left behind is defenseman Chris Wideman. Wideman led all B-Sens blueliners during the 2013-14 season with 51 points, including a team-high 42 assists, over 73 games played. This year, he already has 11 goals and 11 assists in 18 games.

“His confidence level has really grown [since last year] and that’s great,” Richardson said. “It’s infectious and goes around the team. That’s the leadership you take out of that. He’s playing hard every night, trying to help the team and at the same time he’s helping himself.”

Wideman already had a nine-game scoring streak this season, and leads the entire AHL in scoring entering the weekend. The 24-year-old native of St. Louis, Mo., was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Month for October, but despite the honors and statistics, Wideman continues to stay level-headed in his third year of playing in the AHL.

“I was honored, but at the same time I think it’s just an extension of the team,” Wideman said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be at the finishing ends of some really good plays from my teammates. Other than that, the way I look at it I can’t do anything without them.”

Not only is Wideman’s “team first” mentality a good influence for his game on the ice, but also it is something that Richardson and the other players have taken notice of.

“He’s a good guy and team player,” Richardson said. “Sometimes you get players that are offensively focused and they get the order [of team vs. self] mixed up. We don’t have that with him and that’s a huge plus for other guys to see.”

Another example the players have to look up to is defenseman and team captain Aaron Johnson.

Johnson was signed by Ottawa during the off-season and quickly stood out among the Binghamton Senators. With a well-known young team, the 31-year-old veteran brought experience in the form of 291 games played in the NHL and 345 more in the AHL.

“I knew him his first year in Columbus as a young guy,” Richardson said. “He’s comfortable in himself that he can take the leadership role even though he’s new here. He’s respectful to the guys in here but at the same time the guys are respectful to him because of his experience and the way he carries himself as a person.”

On the ice, Johnson has a goal and nine assists in 18 games and leads the team in plus/minus with a plus-10 rating. Johnson also brings experience to a defense that has been known to struggle in the past.

“My goal is to just be a solid player defensively,” Johnson said. “Any time you can play well defensively, it turns into a great offense. I try to teach the things I have learned along the way and help out when I can.”

Johnson’s positive mentality and calm demeanor are helpful in the locker room. Despite what some people have seen as a bad start, Johnson maintains if the team stays calm and continues working hard, good things will happen.

“We need to play for a hard 60 minutes,” Johnson said. “That seems to be a struggle right now other than that poise and calm. Sometimes when things don’t go well [players] tend to get nervous, but the calmer we are the better it will be.”

While the B-Sens need to work on certain issues, their positive attitude is something that Wideman and Richardson think they will do just fine with.

“We have a really positive group, so I don’t think there are guys that are too down right now,” Wideman said. “I think we are a little frustrated, but we are doing some good things. I think we are getting better every day.”

The team began to see that change following a successful weekend at home last week. After beating the Atlantic Division leading Manchester Monarchs, 4-3 in overtime, on Friday night, the Senators went on to shut out the Albany Devils, 7-0, for their first two consecutive wins of the season.

“Sometimes the lessons in the beginning go a long way,” said Richardson. “We really look at them and take ownership of what needs to be done, and I think the guys are responding well and working hard defensively.

“It’s a process. It’s a long season. I’d rather go through some working moments at the beginning of the year than run into them at the end of the year.”