Clock already ticking on Senators

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

I'm always running late for something -- appointments, movies ... even home games. It's probably ingrained in my DNA as a female to do so.

But it's nice to know that I'm finally on time for something. I've arrived in a punctual fashion to see the Senators play some games of relevance.

After all ... it's still early.

If ever a phrase could make me cringe, that would have to be it. And yet the members of the Ottawa front office have been repeating it like a mantra: "We're only (13, 16, 18 -- take your pick) games into the season."

Why are two points in November awarded less significance than those obtained in March? Let's break this down a bit more.

Ottawa is at the quarter-season mark. After 20 games last year, there were 10 teams with records below .500: Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Florida, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington.

Of those 10 teams, only Anaheim and Tampa Bay got playoff berths (sixth in the West and eighth in the East respectively). What led to the turnarounds for the Ducks and Lightning? A long winning streak.

Anaheim was mired in an eight-game skid during November, but starting Feb. 10, they went 12-2-1 -- a streak that began before, and continued long after, the Olympic break. Tampa Bay achieved its winning streak earlier still, going 9-1 after Nov. 17. Don't bother playing the "early in the season" card with Tampa's Southeast Division rival, Atlanta. The Thrashers were left behind once last year's playoffs began, finishing only two points behind the Lightning.

Atlanta's regular-season record vs. Tampa Bay was 3-4-1. Had the Thrashers won any of the four losses, it may have been their post-season to enjoy.

LOOK AT LEAFS

Want to take the evidence a little closer to home? Remember how everyone kept claiming that if the Leafs had only beaten Ottawa more than once in their eight-game regular-season series, they would have made the post-season?

That may be true, but Ottawa had secured a playoff spot, well in advance.

Again, let's look at who secured the eighth-place berth: Tampa Bay. Toronto's regular-season record vs. the Lightning was 2-1-1.

Had Toronto won one more game against them, the swing in points would have mathematically included the Leafs in the post-season, while eliminating Tampa Bay. That one loss occurred on Nov. 30.

In respect to Ottawa's current situation, it's been stated their window for change is rapidly closing. That refrain is a relevant one, after reflecting on the team that made the biggest roster alteration last year -- San Jose.

The Sharks opened with an 8-5-1 record, followed by a deflating 10-game skid, taking their record to 8-12-4. Twenty-four games into the season, they made their blockbuster trade for Joe Thornton. In the 16 games that followed, San Jose went 12-4-1, and finished fifth.

Keep in mind their move secured last season's eventual Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, and San Jose still settled in the bottom half of the Western Conference. It's highly doubtful that Ottawa would be as fortunate in the trade department.

All of these proclamations surrounding Ottawa's early season woes have not sat well with the team's fan base.

Demand for seats always appears brisk down the stretch towards the playoffs. But lately, the front office has been brushing off the relevance of early-season games. If that's the case, why should any non-season ticket holder bother showing up in the meantime?

History speaks volumes. All games are important, and sometimes, one -- even in November -- can make the difference. But these are the Sens we're talking about. It'll be different for them.

After all, it's still early.


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