OTTAWA — A 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues was nice for the Ottawa Senators and their fans.
Getting to see a couple pieces of their future for the first time was better.
Anders Nilsson made 34 saves for his second shutout of the season while Christian Wolanin and Chris Tierney scored for the Senators, who snapped a three-game losing streak on Thursday night at the Canadian Tire Centre.
But more importantly, the rebuilding Senators (24-41-6) had two key players — defenceman Erik Brannstrom and recently signed forward Max Veronneau — making NHL debuts in a win over a Blues team (36-27-7) in a playoff race.
“It was a night where the kids were the story and I liked both of them tremendously,” Senators coach Marc Crawford said. “Veronneau getting the amount of shots he did is good. He’s got good speed and a good sense to get open. Brannstrom is as advertised. That kid has poise.
“Two excellent prospects for us and that’s nice that our fans are getting to see a little bit what the future has in store.”
Veronneau, 23, was born and raised in Ottawa and played three years of junior A hockey in the city with the Gloucester Rangers before embarking on his four-year collegiate career with the Princeton Tigers.
Veronneau signed a two-year entry level contract with the Senators on Tuesday after the Tigers were eliminated from the NCAA playoffs. His first skate with the NHL team was on Wednesday.
“It was a phenomenal experience, especially sharing it with Erik and it was that much better because the team won, too. The post-game atmosphere was that much better,” said Veronneau, who estimated he had about 30 friends and family in attendance.
“The first period I was pretty nervous, but the second period was so much better,”
Brannstrom, who was playing with the Senators’ AHL affiliate in Belleville, Ont., was an emergency callup due to injuries on the Ottawa blueline.
“It was really exciting when I got the call. I went to the practice in Belleville today and they told me I was going up, so drove up here and it was really fun,” Brannstrom said.
The 19-year old Swede, who was the 15th overall pick by Vegas in 2017, was dealt to the Senators in the trade that sent Mark Stone to the Golden Knights at the deadline.
The two rookies teamed up on a couple occasions to produce scoring opportunities, including midway through the second period when Brannstrom set up Veronneau for a good chance.
Veronneau had four shots on goal in the second period and five shots overall and was named the game’s third star.
“I wish I had scored on one of those but it was pretty exciting to get some shots and I had some chances,” he said.
The Senators opened the scoring at 13:27 of the second when Wolanin took a cross-ice pass from Mikkel Boedker. Wolanin had an empty net to shoot at as Allen and the rest of the Blues were focusing on Boedker.
Tierney scored into an empty net with 57 seconds to play.
Jake Allen made 19 saves in the loss for the Blues.
“We need to have a 60-minute effort and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing right now — teams that are in the playoffs or out. Everyone is playing for something and we let this one slip,” Allen said.
NOTES: Colin White, Mark Borowiecki and Christian Jaros were scratches for the Senators, while Joel Edmundson, Sammy Blais, Jordan Kyrou and Vladimir Tarasenko were scratches for the Blues. … Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly bought 35 tickets for the First Nation Elite Bantam AAA hockey team and their parents after hearing how the team was subjected to racist taunts at a tournament in Quebec City last year. … The Senators will conclude a two-game homestand Saturday when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blues will play the middle game of a three-game road swing against the Penguins in Pittsburgh Saturday.
Darren Desaulniers, The Canadian Press