OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators always intended for Matt O’Connor to get some NHL experience, just not this soon.
The Senators announced Friday that goaltender Andrew Hammond will miss at least two weeks with to a groin injury, giving O’Connor another chance at the NHL level. The 23-year-old had been on the ice for just 20 minutes with Ottawa’s American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton before he was called off and told to make his way to Montreal to meet the team for a pre-season game.
“It was a quick turn over there and a nice warm welcome and then back up,” said O’Connor. “I feel very privileged to be here and I’m really excited to help the team and the organization as much as I can.”
Senators general manager Bryan Murray told reporters that the team will be cautious with Hammond’s injury, suffered Thursday at practice.
“It’s not a tear or anything, but it’s a pull and we have to be careful,” Murray said. “With Andrew coming off the year he had or the finish of the year he had and to start (with an injury) is difficult. It takes a while to get back from it we know that; so we’ll have to address it as he gets closer to returning to the lineup, but very definitely it’s a real kick for him to not be at the top of his game to start with.”
O’Connor, who signed with the Senators last year as a free agent, says he plans on making the most of the opportunity.
“The shooters are always challenging me,” he said. .”They keep you humble. Right when your skills feel on point you always have a really talented player coming down on you. It’s definitely an unbelievable challenge and it’s a really good place for players to develop.”
O’Connor will serve as backup to Craig Anderson when the Senators open the season Thursday in Buffalo. Ottawa plays three games in four nights and in all likelihood Anderson will start each one.
“I’ve had a lot of time off,” said Anderson with a laugh. “I haven’t done much for six months so I should be ready to go.”
The Senators wrap up the pre-season Saturday night with the second of a home-and-home against the Montreal Canadiens and while Anderson was unsure whether or not he would get the start he does feel it’s important for the team to realize the importance of this last game.
“It’s one last dress rehearsal, but at the same time you want to get that winning habit, that winning feeling around and create good habits,” said Anderson. “You don’t want to go into the regular season by playing bad habit hockey so for us it’s just a matter of managing the game and managing our mistakes.”
Murray also told reporters that final roster decisions will likely be made late Saturday or at the latest Sunday.
Forwards Shane Prince and Matt Puempel have both looked good through camp as they each vie for the 13th spot up front and say they’re ready to accept whatever decision the organization makes.
While both have had solid camps, Prince benefits from the fact he would have to clear waivers before being assigned to Binghamton while Puempel does not.
Notes: The Senators put Colin Greening on waivers and he cleared. Murray says he will continue to try and work out a trade for Greening, but to this point has had no success. Greening has two year, $5.95 million left on his contract. D Chris Phillips says he is making progress, but has not resumed skating and there remains no timetable for his return. Phillips suffered a setback while recovering from back surgery.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press