Mads Sogaard isn’t shy about talking about his biggest asset: Being big.
The 6-foot-7 Great Dane goaltender mentioned it several times while talking with reporters in Detroit on Thursday, in advance of what could be his first NHL start in the Ottawa Senators net Friday night against the Red Wings.
“When I started using my size to my advantage, that’s when I started to play well,” he said following Thursday afternoon’s workout. “You’ve got to have fun with it. You never know how many games you’re going to get, so I’m just trying to take it all in.”
Sogaard, who has gone 16-13-1, with a 2.87 goals against average and .906 save percentage with Belleville of the American Hockey League, was called up earlier this week. Filip Gustavsson went the other way.
In an ideal world, of course, the Senators would be fighting for a playoff spot and high-priced goaltender Matt Murray would be healthy and delivering a steady stream of victories.
Given the circumstances, though, Friday would seem like an ideal spot for the organization to get a taste of what Sogaard can do, while also giving a breather to Anton Forsberg. Forsberg has started the past four games, including in Tuesday’s 4-1 defeat to the Nashville Predators, and 10 of the last 12.
Coach DJ Smith hasn’t made the official decision just yet, but all signs point to Sogaard being in against the Red Wings, currently spinning their wheels while on a 2-8-3 tailspin.
“Big, real big,” Smith said when asked about early impressions of Sogaard. “Let’s be clear here, I believe he’s a 2000-born, and that’s a young goalie in pro hockey. It takes a long time for these guys to be ready and we’ll put him in the right scenario.”
Originally drafted by the Senators 37th overall in 2019, Sogaard went 7-0-0 in his first taste of pro hockey late last season with Belleville. His NHL exhibition experience amounts to one period back in September.
“I’m trying to go through a normal day before a game,” he said. “I got called up for a reason, for my play, and I think it’s just about continuing on that path.”
As much as possible, he was trying not to get ahead of himself on Thursday.
“This is what I have worked for, for my entire life, so obviously, you think a little more about it, but I’m just trying to prepare the same way.”
He prides himself on being able to put blinders on to the outside noise while stopping pucks from getting into the net.
“I’ve been through some adversity here and there,” he said. “I think I know how to pick myself up after a bad game and I also think I’m good at blocking out the rest of the world. So that’s what I’m going to try and do for these upcoming games.
“Going out there and seeing an NHL logo on the other team and on yourself, it’s different. You haven’t done that before. Just having that (pre-season) experience gave me a lot going down to Belleville and made me want to be here even more after getting a taste of it.”
While Sogaard could be charged with taking care of business at the Senators end of the rink, Smith is emphasizing that the Senators get harder and hungrier at the other end.
Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros was outstanding in stopping 36 of 37 shots Tuesday, but Smith is stressing that not every goal has to be pretty.
“You have to get to the net to score and that’s what (practice) was all about,” he said. “You’re not going to get any freebies in this league if you can’t get to the net. On the nights when it’s not going in, you’ve got to get some ugly ones and I don’t think we’ve (scored) enough ugly ones.”
The Red Wings, meanwhile, are struggling to get back on track. After a surprising start to the season — 13-9-3 on Dec. 4 and 16-15-3 on Jan. 4 — they’ve been porous defensively lately. Since March 4, they’ve gone 2-8-3, outscored by a whopping 64-33.
There have been rumblings that coach Jeff Blashill, who has been behind the bench since 2015-16, could be in trouble.
In Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers, the Red Wings blew leads of 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3.
“They’ve been real good at home and they were real good against the Rangers,” said Smith. “They have a lot of team speed and they have scored some goals.”
Like the Senators, the Red Wings are a rebuilding squad. Among the threats are top Calder Trophy candidates Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, who could present a challenge for Sogaard and company.
After Friday’s tilt, the clubs will turn around and do it all over again for a Sunday matinee at Canadian Tire Centre.