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Struggling Senators dealt 'crushing' blow as Norris' season comes to an end

Norris is the second high-profile young player in the Atlantic Division these past few days to be sidelined for the season due to shoulder issues. Late last week, the Montreal Canadiens announced that forward Cole Caufield would be out for the duration with a nagging shoulder problem that requires surgery. 
2022-04-09 ctc
Canadian Tire Centre. File photo

Josh Norris hoped to avoid surgery and rehabilitate his shoulder without it. 

But on Saturday, Jan. 21, during a 5-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the Senators centre reached out with his stick on a routine play and felt that familiar pang in his left shoulder. 

On Monday, Jan. 23, Senators general manager (GM) Pierre Dorion announced that Norris would require surgery on the shoulder, after suffering the same type of injury that put him out of action in late October

Dorion, speaking to reporters briefly as practice started, said that Norris “felt a subluxation” in the shoulder, essentially a pinching pain, and had to leave the game. As head coach D.J. Smith noted, Norris refused to leave the bench and go to the room until the game was over. 

Asked for his reaction to the news, Dorion described it in a  word: “Crushing.” 

Norris is the second high-profile young player in the Atlantic Division these past few days to be sidelined for the season due to shoulder issues. Late last week, the Montreal Canadiens announced that forward Cole Caufield would be out for the duration with a nagging shoulder problem that requires surgery. 

After getting injured on a faceoff on Oct. 22, Norris consulted with multiple doctors, including the surgeon in the US who had operated on his shoulder for a different type of injury, when he was still playing in college at Michigan and for the United States at the 2019 world junior championships. 

This time around, the 23-year-old opted for rehab and rest, for about eight weeks, before returning to action Jan. 18 versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, he didn’t last three full games before hurting it again. In parts of eight games played this season, Norris had two goals and one assist. 

Last season, Norris scored 35 goals and was rewarded in July with an eight-year, $63-million contract. 

“He tried his best to join the boys but re-injured it in the third period (Saturday) just reaching,” said Senators head coach D.J. Smith. “He didn’t want to leave the bench to make a big deal of it, but he was done halfway through (the period).”

The Senators didn’t provide a timeline for Norris but Smith said he expects the recovery from surgery will take four to six months, meaning Norris should be ready for training camp in the fall. 

Bypassing surgery last fall was Norris’ call, Smith said. 

“Ultimately it’s his decision as a player,” Smith said. “He talked to his surgeon in the states, the guy who had done his surgery before, and his thought was that you rehab it and there’d be a legitimate chance you wouldn’t reinjure it. That just ended up not being the case.”

To protect his shoulder, the coaching staff kept Norris out of the faceoff circle and even that wasn’t enough. 

Shane Pinto, who played just five games last season before requiring shoulder surgery in November, expressed sympathy and empathy for his teammate and fellow centre. 

“I said it about six weeks ago, there’s no replacing a guy like him,” Pinto said. “Besides hockey, just for the guy himself, I feel for him. I went through it last year, the same circumstance. Just as a person, a buddy of his, I just feel bad. He’s going to come back stronger for us next year. 

“Mentally, it’s very tough,” Pinto added. “I’m not going to lie, you’ve got to have your family with you, your friends and you’re going to come back stronger. It’s part of sports, adversity is going to happen, and injuries are just sort of the unfortunate part of it, but I know the kid he is and what kind of person he is – he’ll be fine.”

Ridly Greig recalled from Belleville

Pinto says you can’t replace Norris, but the Senators had to fill that spot on the roster. That is the happier side of the story, as centre prospect Ridly Greig has been recalled from Belleville and will make his National Hockey League (NHL) on Wednesday, Jan. 25 against the New York Islanders. Greig has 12 goals, 11 assists in 28 games with Belleville this season. 

At practice, the 20-year-old Greig was skating on a second line with Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat. 

As a longtime fan of Giroux, Greig said he is more than a bit awed at this opportunity to play on his line. Greig’s father, Mark, was a player and then a scout for the Flyers, where Giroux played for many years. 

“It’s pretty crazy,” Greig said. 

Asked how he reacted to the phone call of his promotion, Greig said he was numb. 

“It was yesterday morning, Pierre called me and I kind of just laid in bed for an hour, taking it in,” Greig said. “And then I drove up last night.”

During that hour of “taking it in,” the Lethbridge native said he phoned his parents and his girlfriend. 

“It’s pretty cool.”

Greig said he will watch and take in as much as he can playing with Giroux and DeBrincat. 

Greig’s arrival is part of an overall shakeup of the lines, as promised by Smith. On Monday, winger Drake Batherson dropped back to the third line while Mathieu Joseph moved up to line one with Tkachuk and centre Tim Stützle. 

The new third line has Batherson with Pinto and Derick Brassard. The fourth line is more or less intact with Parker Kelly, Dylan Gambrell and Austin Watson. 

Smith had said after Saturday’s loss to the Jets that he wanted a “worker” on each line. In the new scenario, Brassard becomes the worker on the third line and Joseph on the first line. Greig, who brings a Parker Kelly type of aggression to his game, is expected to be a sparkplug on his unit with Giroux and DeBrincat. 

Joseph played his best hockey last season when he played on a line with Norris and Tkachuk, Smith said. He wants to get Joseph “going” after having a difficult start to the season and missing time with an injury. 

The coach likes the idea of Greig getting tutored by a veteran like Giroux. 

“He did that with Pinto,” Smith said of Giroux. “I wanted to have him (Greig) with Giroux, have him help him through his shifts, help him develop properly when he’s up here.”

On defence, Nikita Zaitsev is healthy again and paired with Erik Brannstrom. Jacob Bernard-Docker has been sent back to Belleville. 

Interestingly, following a lengthy practice, Smith spent nearly 15 minutes talking shop with Giroux and DeBrincat, with the help of a rinkside chart board. The coach said later the trio were discussing ways to generate scoring and puck possession. 

The Senators have scored just 17 goals in their past eight games, six of them losses.

 

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