The dog days of the NHL season are now behind us, and the final 15 games are set to determine who makes the playoffs and the seedings. The Ottawa Senators, who were supposed to be on the outside looking in at this point, seemingly have the seventh spot all to themselves.
Things can change, but for the last few weeks, the Sens have had a nice cushion over the eighth place squad. And the teams ahead of them, New Jersey and Philadelphia, never seem to falter enough for Ottawa to catch them.
A month and a half ago Ottawa had suffered through a seven game winless streak. Many were wondering if they were going to fall out of the playoff picture. But as they have done all season, the Senators responded with a run that saw them pick up 15 of a possible 18 points.
“I would say we have played pretty good for the most part,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “After the All Star Game, we had two or three games where we weren’t very good…Since then we have been pretty consistent and given ourselves a chance to win every night.”
And responding has been the key to the Senators success this year. When they fell behind to the New York Rangers recently, they scored the next four to win the game. It was only the second loss all season for the Rangers in a game where they scored the first goal. If they lose a few in a row, they come back with a strong week or two. If Ottawa is trailing going into the final period, they always have the ability to climb back into a game. The Senators lead the league in third period goals with 91.
“We are really happy with the way we are playing right now,” Nick Foligno said after the Buffalo Sabres game.” We just need to keep working at it and getting better.”
Recently, starting goalie Craig Anderson suffered an injury that would sideline him for about a month. During the last two and a half weeks, Ottawa has used three different goalies. Robin Lehner was called up and won a couple of games, and newly acquired Ben Bishop has stepped in and won two and lost a shootout.
“Even though we had Andy ( Craig Anderson ) go down with injury,” Alfredsson said, “Robin came in and played really good and now Bishop has played really good too.”
As simple as it may sound, Ottawa doesn’t need to worry about teams behind them or who they might play if they make the playoffs. All that matters is focusing on their own game, and continuing to gain points down the stretch.
“To get into the playoffs, we need points,” defenseman Erik Karlsson told Inside Hockey. “We still need to get them at this point.”
As one Senator official told me recently, they feel like they are playing with house money. But, they also feel they deserve to be where they are. A few more wins will get Ottawa into a playoff spot. No team in the Eastern Conference has missed the post season with 93 points. If they can play .500 hockey in their last 12 games, it should be more than enough.
And nobody would have thought that coming into this season.