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Coach D.J. Smith remains hopeful the Ottawa Senators will be able to finish their season

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith
Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith

D.J. Smith isn’t ready to throw in the towel on this season.

Yes, the Ottawa Senators coach knows his first year behind the bench may well be over, but whenever the NHL does return from its pause he’ll be ready to get going again. In fact, at this point, he’d be happy just to get back to his normal routine of going to the rink, spending time with the staff and players, and preparing the club for its next opponent.

The Senators were supposed to have closed out the season Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Canadian Tire Centre and then the Ottawa faithful were going to gear up for the NHL draft lottery, which was supposed to be held Thursday night at 8 p.m. as part of the broadcast of the playoffs.

“I’m hopeful that we can get out of the house, get back to work and get joking with the guys,” Smith said in a video conference with the media Wednesday afternoon from his home  in Tecumseh, Ont. “Certainly, yeah, we want to finish on the right note and finish with the message we’re going to work right to the very end, to the very last buzzer and give the fans what they deserve.

“At home this season, they got to see how hard we played, and we wanted to play right to the end with them. I know we finished with Pittsburgh and we would have loved to have played one last hard game for them on the way out, so certainly I want to get back, but we’ll just listen to the guidance from the NHL. We’re going to play hockey at some point, it’s just a matter of when.”

With hockey on pause, Smith has taken a look at his team in the last 10 days and areas where the team can make improvement — either in the final 11 games of the season or next year. The Senators were ranked No. 30 on the power play when the league went on pause and were No. 28 in penalty killing so those are areas that need to improve one way or another.

He said for the club to be a playoff team those two teams have to be “significantly better”.

“Always I’m thinking about how our special teams can get better,” Smith said. “We knew this year with our process and players going in or out, but whether we play again this year or next season, for us specifically, is how good our special teams can be. Our power play struggled at the start, it got hot in the middle and with all the personnel changes we experienced it struggled at the end.

“On the flip side, our penalty kill was outstanding for the longest time, then struggled down the stretch. I believe special teams is such a big part of the NHL, talking to other coaches and other people. The most important thing to me is the development of our young guys, and they continue to get better. We’re individually working with Shean Donovan and talking about the individual skills they can get better at so they’re well-informed so whether it’s this season or next season, when they come back, we know we have to take a step forward.”

He felt goaltender Marcus Hogberg, defenceman Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk all made good progress this year.

Smiths said he isn’t sure if either goaltender Anders Nilsson (concussion) or defenceman Mark Borowiecki (ankle) would be ready to play if the season were to resume.

“It’s hard to say because without skating and without doing the day-to-day things in the NHL, it’s hard to say where they’re at,” Smith said. “Both are certainly doing way better than they were, but without being on the ice, being able to see the trainers on a day-to-day basis and doctors it’s tough to say where they’re at. Certainly, this time off helps them and everybody heal.”

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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