The wait is finally over as suspended Shane Pinto returns to Senators

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Shane Pinto was welcomed back with open arms Sunday afternoon.

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After serving his 41-game suspension from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for breaking the league’s rules for “activities related to sports wagering,” the 23-year-old Pinto picked up an assist in his debut as the Ottawa Senators scored a 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.

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“It was a long time coming,” Pinto told TSN 1200’s Gord Wilson after the game. “I’m just glad to get the two points. I got my first game over with. Now I can just focus on hockey.”

This was the Game No. 100 of Pinto’s NHL career. He had 20 goals and 35 points in 82 games last season with the club and big things were expected coming into this year. He’ll have to try to make the best of a difficult situation but tried to make the best of his time away from the game.

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Interim coach Jacques Martin told reporters in Philadelphia that Pinto’s presence gave the club options with the forward lines.

“It’s his first game back so he’ll probably bring a lot of energy,” Martin said before the game. “But he’s got to keep the game simple and try to adjust on the fly to the pace of the game when you’re starting at the halfway mark versus starting after training camp.”

Pinto had a great afternoon and he was effective. He went nine-for-10 in the faceoff circle, was plus two while skating 14 minutes and 53 seconds. It’s the first time Pinto has suited up since last season ended on April 13 against the Buffalo Sabres and that’s 283 days between games.

“The first period I felt a little slow out there,” Pinto said. “Through the game, I felt good. I’ve been training a lot, but it was just the first I felt a little off.”

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Shane Pinto greets teammates
Shane Pinto #57 of the Ottawa Senators greets teammates before playing against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 21, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pinto is playing in his 100th-career NHL game. Pinto returns to action following a 41 game ban form the NHL for gambling. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu /GETTY IMAGES

This is the first time in 365 days the Senators have had all three of their top three centres — Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris and Pinto — in the lineup. That meant rookie pviot Ridly Greig was moved to the wing for this one.

We’ve talked a lot about this club’s depth in the middle, but it’s been rare to see it. The last time was Jan. 21, 2023 against the Jets. Martin also stated it’s possible that Norris could spend some time on the wing with Pinto back. At the very least, it gives the Senators options.

Pinto skated on a line with Mathieu Joseph on the left and Vladimir Tarasenko on the right on the club’s third line. Greig moved to the left side of Stutzle and Drake Batherson.

Pinto did a good job going to the net. With 8:15 left in the second and the Flyers up 3-1 on the scoreboard, he found himself in the middle of a battle in front of the net that ultimately allowed the Senators to pull within a goal.

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He landed on top of Flyers’ goalie Samuel Ersson after being cross-checked during a shoving match in front and picked up his first point of the season after an assist on a goal that was awarded to Tim Stutzle.

The Senators need more of that battle in front from their forwards. That’s an element that Pinto can bring because he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty. He was also in the middle of the push in the crease with the scored tied 3-3 in the third period and the Senators pushing.

His teammates are happy to see him.

“(It meant) a lot (to Pinto),” said Stutzle. “He was pretty nervous at the start to get going. He played awesome. He was working really hard and made some really good plays. I felt like he was all over the ice and it was awesome to see him come back.”

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Pinto’s timing for a return was perfect.

For the first time in club history, the Senators brought their mothers along for this two-game road trip. His mother, Catherine, sat in a private box in the building with the rest of the group. The rest of his family, including Pinto’s father, Frank, were in the stands.

Ottawa Senators' Shane Pinto
Shane Pinto #57 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck during the first period at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 21, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu /GETTY IMAGES

They made the trip from nearby Franklin, N.Y. to see Pinto play in what was important opportunity for him to turn the page on what’s been a difficult time in his career. His grandfather also made the trip.

“It’s awesome. Just to have my grandpa here from Florida, he’s getting older now,” Pinto said. “Those kinds of moments are special. You can’t take that for granted. It was definitely special.”

Pinto was looking forward to dinner in Montreal with his rest of his teammates and their mothers Sunday night. The players have Monday off after back-to-back games this weekend before facing the Canadiens Tuesday at the Bell Centre.

Being back with his teammates reminded Pinto how much he’d missed suiting up for nine months. He’s been back with his teammates but skating with them isn’t the same.

“Just the compete with the fellas to get the two points,” Pinto said. “It’s hard to do in this league but when you get the two points it’s pretty rewarding.”

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