February blahs hit Sens

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

Some food for thought while you shovel the driveway, look after the kids and get yourself to work for another long, exhausting day:

The Senators are beat.

"They played (Friday) night, we didn't, and they came out and set the pace," a dumbfounded Chris Kelly said after Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Devils, Ottawa's third in a row. "We couldn't keep up for the first two periods."

Inexplicable but true.

The Senators have appeared weary throughout a February funk that actually began in mid-January. They have won just two of their last eight games and five of their last 16 dating back to the day after their inspired 3-2 victory over the Red Wings in a showdown of the league's top two teams.

The malaise has them clinging to first place -- heading into play yesterday, the Senators were just two points ahead of the Devils and Canadiens.

"We've got to get our jump back in our game," said Jason Spezza. "It looks like, it feels like, we're dragging, a little bit tired out there. That's the way our play has been."

There's no real down time in sight, either. Players had yesterday off but were required to show up at the rink for a 90-minute autograph session. They'll practise today and face the struggling Flyers at home tomorrow, the first of a busy six-game in nine-day stretch.

The Flyers have one of the league's best power plays, a fact that should be of concern to a Senators team that is taking far too many penalties (another sign of tiredness) lately. Ottawa has played short-handed 23 times in the last four games.

"It's too much work for guys to be chasing guys with one less man on the ice, too," said Spezza, before getting back to the big picture. "We've got to work our way out of (the funk), but I think we've got to rest our way out of it, too, a little bit. It's a grind. It's that time of the year. We've worked pretty hard as a team ... a lot of off-ice stuff, a lot of workouts ... I think it'll help us down the stretch, but right now maybe it's a little tougher to get going. Usually at this time of year, you start getting a few more days to rest, time to take time and really focus on the games."

The focus of those following the team today will be as it is on most -- John Paddock's choice as starting goalie. Since the win-and-you're-in rotation was employed, both Ray Emery and Martin Gerber have won 2-of-5 starts and have surrendered 17 goals each. If anything, the team has played tighter in front of Gerber, who has faced 129 shots in the five games while Emery has had to deal with 161.

GERBER'S TURN?

It'll be Gerber's turn tomorrow unless Paddock plays the "coach's prerogative" card.

As for his desire to have one of the two grab the starting job for the stretch run, Paddock might want to wait until after the Feb. 26 trade deadline, just in case GM Bryan Murray is able to upgrade.

"There's lots of other issues," Spezza said of the Senators' woes. "We're taking too many penalties. We're giving the puck up a little bit too much in the neutral zone without a forecheck ... there's tons of issues you can talk about, but they all get masked if you win hockey games.

"You make the same mistakes when you're winning, but they just get masked when you're putting the puck in the net."

Daniel Alfredsson thinks the Senators may have set their "hopes too high" since their spectacular 15-2 start.

"Sometimes I feel we get one behind and we want to get it back right away because feel we should win every game ... instead of playing a little smarter, being a little more patient," said Alfredsson. "Although I think the last two games we've been playing a lot better in the neutral zone and that's what we've been talking about.

"Any time you're not winning games it's frustrating. I think we've just got to not worry about the result, make sure we give a good effort for 60 minutes and try staying out of the penalty box. We're getting a lot of calls against us, right or wrong, and it's making it tough to win games.

"We've just got to keep digging. I think with the additions we've had, we're still looking for some chemistry, I guess. I mean it's going to come. Hopefully sooner rather than later."

Added Spezza: "I've got a lot of confidence in this team. I don't think we're in trouble. But I do think it gets you a little bit motivated to know that we've got to be a better team in order to go to where we were last year."

Right now, that seems very far away.


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