OTTAWA â€” Some might call it a demotion, but Bobby Ryan prefers to see it as an opportunity.
Ryan, the Senators highest paid forward, was moved to Ottawa’s third line Saturday afternoon alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Tom Pyatt as they took on the New York Islanders.
The experiment proved successful as the trio shut down the Islanders’ top line and it appears they will remain together Tuesday night as the Senators host the Buffalo Sabres.
Most assumed Ryan would be disappointed with the new assignment, but the 29-year-old prefers to look at it as a new challenge.
“Truthfully they play the most minutes so I’m excited for the opportunity,” said Ryan. “Last game was (John) Tavares, next game coming in will probably be (Jack) Eichel, so I don’t mind those match-ups one bit. Call it the third or defensive line or whatever you will, but those guys are playing well.
“I think (Senators coach Guy Boucher) saw an opportunity to slide me into a role and see if I could handle it. He came to me before the game and asked and I said absolutely. I really don’t mind, I don’t. I know there’s people who have their opinions on it, but if that’s what he wants me to do I’m going to do it. I’m just going to come in and go to work. I can’t control those things.”
Boucher says people need to stop evaluating Ryan’s season on stats alone and look at his overall performance.
“If you’re not scoring, but you’re playing great, you’re helping the team and that’s what Bobby has done, he’s helping our team,” Boucher said. “If he wasn’t playing well, if he was lazy, if he was unreliable then it would be a different story. Then I would be unhappy and I would tell you he has had a tough stretch, but right now he’s not having a tough stretch in how he’s playing. He’s having a tough stretch finishing or maybe not choosing to shoot sometimes. . . but the rest for me has been good.”
As a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Ryan had four consecutive seasons with 30 or more goals, but since being acquired by the Senators in 2013 he’s never surpassed 23 goals. After 47 games this season, Ryan has 11 goals and 21 points and will need a solid finish to have a chance to hit the 20-goal mark.
“I think people need to get over that season in Anaheim and start looking at him here in Ottawa,” Boucher said. “Now he’s got a new coach who’s asking something new from him.
“Me putting him against the best players isn’t about a lack of confidence, it’s the opposite. I found that he’s been playing so well defensively and up front he’s one of the few who can offer us physical strength and can still make plays along the boards while under pressure. I need a player like that against other teams’ best lines.”
Obviously Ryan would like to contribute more offensively, but he’s not going to force things. He admits that everywhere he goes â€” restaurants, grocery stores, movies â€” people are telling him he needs to shoot more, but he’s more concerned with making the right play than getting a shot on goal.
With just 77 shots this season Ryan could easily afford to be a little selfish and shoot the puck more often, but he just wants to see the team do well.
“You’d like to score more than 11 at this point of the year, but I’m just making the most of the minutes and the time that I get,” Ryan said. “It’s all you can do. You can be negative and you can come in and pout, but I’m not going to do that. I’ve been around long enough and that doesn’t get you anywhere as a team, as an individual, so I come in and whatever he tells me is going on that day that’s what I do. I don’t care, we’re winning.”
Craig Anderson will get his second consecutive start Tuesday against the Sabres.
The Senators are 1-3-0 against the Sabres this season and were shut out 4-0 in their last meeting.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press