Senators head coach DJ Smith has confirmed that Josh Norris will be in the lineup tonight against the Washington Capitals. Norris, who suffered a couple of shoulder injuries, hasn’t played since January 21st, 2023, and has missed a total of 93 games between the past two seasons and the first three games of the 2023-24 campaign.
Norris injured his shoulder only five games into the season last year while taking a faceoff. He had missed time the season prior because of the same shoulder, though it was a different injury. After attempting rehab to avoid surgery that would almost certainly be end his season, he returned in January, though only for three games before reaggravating the shoulder, and elected to go straight to surgery. When Norris made his return in January, he was unable to take faceoffs, which was an immediate red flag to the fanbase. When he was unable to continue playing, it wasn’t much of a surprise to most. The good news is he has the green light to take faceoffs tonight. A center being able to take faceoffs shouldn’t be newsworthy, but in this case, it sort of is.
He tweaked something in training camp, keeping him sidelined through the entire preseason and first three games of the regular season. With Shane Pinto still unsigned due to cap issues, Norris being injured absolutely decimated the Senators’ center depth, forcing rookie Ridly Greig to take over second line duties. With Norris missing so much time, it makes sense that he will probably play at least somewhat sheltered minutes to start out. In today’s morning skate, he was on a line with Dominik Kubalik and Drake Batherson, which should make for a formidable third line.
If you aren’t a Senators fan, you probably haven’t had much of a chance to watch Norris closely, and even if you are a Sens fan, it’s been a very long time since anyone’s seen a completely healthy Norris play. What does he bring to the team? First and foremost: goals. In the 2021-22 season, Norris scored 35 goals in just 66 games. He’s got a solid one-timer and a great snapshot he loves taking from the slot, most often by the right faceoff dot. An underrated part of his game is how much he loves to crash the net. Norris, maybe more than anyone on the team in his last healthy season, shovels in rebounds very well. If he ends up on the top powerplay unit later this season, we may see less of that, with Brady Tkachuk typically being the one parked in front of the net. Just stick Norris somewhere in the slot, waiting for the puck, and he should be fine.
Norris also has good speed and can play on the penalty kill, logging just over 37 minutes of ice time on the PK in 21-22 (7th among Sens forwards, despite missing 16 games). Overall, adding him, a sluggish start from missing so much time or not, will be a huge boost to the Senators’ offense.