There is a thought around the NHL that teams need 20 games to determine what type of team they are. Some, like the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Islanders, can accept their identity label from the starters position.
And over the first month or so, slowly this Ottawa Senators team has shown who they are: Inconsistent.
This isn’t something new to Senators fans. Ottawa has become a .500 team. They usually string together a couple good wins then follow that with a few uninspiring losses. Players as well are not immune to the up and down play. Too many players have gone long spells without contributing.
Over the last two weeks it appeared as though the Sens were not bringing enough intensity to their games. A recent tragedy that surrounded the team accounts for part of this. But another disturbing trend has been the lack shots and quality scoring opportunities. And when you consider the talent up front, as well as some of the puck moving defensemen on this squad, you could see why fans to the Team 1200 radio call in shows have been concerned.
Games at home this week (one against Dallas and the other against the LA Kings) brought a total of 38 shots, and even fewer scoring chances. After the Stars game, the whispers were getting louder. Does this team have enough to compete? Were expectations too high for this team? Is this the beginning of the end for this group?
Well it’s funny how quickly things can change in this game. A quality practice on Thursday morning, and then a confidence boosting loss in Pittsburgh on Friday laid the groundwork for what some players were saying was their best game of the year, a 3-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“In that practice on Thursday we really stressed the importance of putting pressure on the other teams defense and really getting pucks to the net,” said forward Jesse Winchester. “We didn’t get the result we wanted (versus the Penguins) but the coaches wanted us to stick with the program, we did and came away the two points.”
“We did some good things (in Pittsburgh) and Fleury made some good saves,” centre Jason Spezza added. “I think against Toronto we kind of reaped the benefit of that as guys had more confidence with the puck and made some good plays.”
The importance of keeping focus, especially when things aren’t going well, can be the difference between halting a small slide or going on a long losing streak. While it has only been two games, the atmosphere around the team is noticeably different.
“Jesse is right on when he says Thursday was a great practice,” Chris Kelly said after the Toronto win. “We hadn’t generated many chances but in the Pittsburgh game we had several opportunities to score more. And then tonight we had a lot of chances to put the puck in the net.”
One sure way of way of getting some emotion back into your game is to play a Maple Leafs team that is just as desperate for points as you are. And with a Leafs game comes barn full of blue and white jerseys. Getting up for a Dallas or Los Angeles team might be tough; going head to head with Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh one night and then your rival Leafs the next, isn’t.
“It’s fun to play in front of that type of atmosphere,” said Kelly. “Both teams kind of feed off that energy.”
“Any time Toronto comes to town the building is loud,” Winchseter noted. “Sometimes it is a little hectic at the beginning of the game (when these two teams meet) and things happen quickly but we stuck with our game plan and came away with the win.”
The Senators will need to maintain that level of play as well as that level of energy as seen against the Maple Leafs. If they can do that, then perhaps that will be the identity they need to make a run in the Eastern Conference.