Senators falttering down the stretch

Remember that streak the Ottawa Senators were on a month ago? Well
those days are a distant memory.

While most teams were looking at the
Olympic break as an opportunity to heal up, it is a break that may have
ended up taking something away from the Senators: Their mojo.

Heading
into the break, Ottawa had won 14 of 16 games. They went from being
out of the playoffs to possibly winning the Northeast division and
gaining the third seed. In the last two weeks Ottawa has picked up a
grand total of three points, two of them came against Edmonton. Not the
type of play you expect from a playoff bound team.

How did it get to this point?

“It’s not one thing I can put my finger on or it would be an easy thing
to fix,” Chris Kelly said after the Leafs game. “Right now most
of us are scratching our heads wondering what we can do differently.”

Some
teams have picked up their play in the last few weeks while Ottawa
seemingly has taken a step back. While they have been missing their
top defenseman in Filip Kuba during this streak and his 28 points
certainly are missed ( especially on the power play ) injuries are not
really a factor in this slump.

In their loss to Toronto, pretty
much the entire roster was suffering from the flu. Getting a point was
a miracle that night. They outplayed Calgary and Edmonton, but only
pulled two points out of Alberta. The other games – Vancouver, the
Rangers, Carolina and Toronto – looked like they were playing
in running shoes, again.

“The biggest thing for us is to get our game back, we can’t worry about
the standings,” said Daniel Alfredsson. “We just need to find a way to
be better in all areas. I think the standings will take care of
itself.”

One of those areas is scoring. The offense has dried
up, getting nine goals in seven games. Former Canes forward Matt Cullen, who was picked up before the
trade deadline
, has two of those goals. While Ottawa certainly has 12 or 13 NHL proven players
up front, outside of an aging Daniel Alfredsson and maybe Jason Spezza,
this current squad has few other high end talent options.

Another
deadline acquisition, Andy Sutton, has proven to be a big physical
depth defenseman. Again, six or seven solid defensemen patrol this blueline, but they still don’t have a clear number one blueliner. 

“I thought we have played good at times,” Alfredsson said after a 4-1
loss to Toronto. “We are not where we want to be and we have a few
weeks here to work things out and I hope we do get back on track here.”

While
depth certainly is important if you want to make a long run in the
playoffs, but when you look at the Eastern Conference, it is littered
with top notch talent, such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom,
Mike Green, Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Pronger. Those are the types of players that lead in big games and those are the type of players the Sens don’t have.

During this
last run, Ottawa has been playing average hockey at best in front of
their goaltenders. Of course, neither Brian Elliot and Pascal Leclaire
have been able to play a full 60 minutes of consistent hockey. At this
point you would have to say the season is a loss for Leclaire, who has
had nothing but bad luck all year. Looks like the Senators will be
relying on Elliot to carry the ball.

“Games are so important now that losing is a concern,” Ryan Shannon
said. “We have to get our winning ways back but more importantly
just play well.”

Is the season lost? No. Ottawa might not be as good as the team that
went 14-2, but they aren’t as bad as the one that pulled three points
out of a two-week stretch either.

A few more wins will secure a higher
seed. But a few more losses, combined with some wins from Boston,
Montreal and Philly, and Ottawa could be looking at a first round match
up with the Penguins or the Capitals.

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