Senators in hole at quarter-pole

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Seventy-four.

At the quarter-pole, that's how many points the Senators are on pace to earn this season.

Not only would the Senators likely miss the post-season, a 74-point campaign would be their worst since they had 41 in 1995-96 -- the last time they failed to make the playoffs.

So, after a lacklustre first quarter, the Senators will focus on the rest of season rather than dwelling on the first 20 games.

Coming off a 4-1 victory over the Rangers on Saturday to end a six-game winless streak, the Senators went back to work yesterday with three practice sessions to prepare for Thursdsay's visit by the Maple Leafs.

"There's been some spurts where we've played very well and there's been some spurts where we haven't been very good," said Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg. "When we play well, we have a certain look to us. When we don't, we play that type of game where we don't have a lot of success.

"Hopefully, the players are starting to understand what will give them the best chance (to win) is being that team that works, competes, and tries to put pressure on the other team every night. If we do that, then we should be successful. If we don't, then we struggle."

Last season, the Senators had 32 points at the quarter-pole, drawing ridiculous comparisons to the 1976-77 Canadiens who had an NHL-record 132 points en route to a Stanley Cup championship.

Ottawa wound up squeaking into the post-season with 94 points -- a far cry from the 131 they were on pace for.

What is means is that while last season's team wasn't as good as its record suggested, this season's club isn't as bad as the point total indicates.

While making the playoffs will be an uphill struggle, the Senators know there is plenty of time to turn their season around.

"We're not where we want to be obviously," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "I'm encouraged with the way we've been playing in the last week and I think that's where we'd like to keep going. Since the game (in New York last Monday), we've been really solid.

"I hope now we can get more confidence and hopefully we can do a better job putting the puck in the net when we have our chances. That's the one thing that's really been missing for us. We really should be able to score more goals with the people that we have here."

Part of the scoring woes lie with the inability of the defencemen to move the puck out of their own zone.

Senators GM Bryan Murray has made no secret of the fact he'd like to add a puck-moving blueliner, but he's stuck in the middle of a long line of teams in search of the same thing.

While the rumour mill suggests that Florida's Jay Bouwmeester and Vancouver's Mattias Ohlund can be had for the right price, that price would cost the Senators at least one if not two players from the current roster.

That's why the Senators are hoping this group can find solutions from within and get back into the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference.

While goalie Alex Auld has been solid, the Senators rank 13th in the conference with 48 goals.

"We just haven't been consistent night in and night out. That's even happened during games where we play 20 minutes the way we can and not 60 minutes," said Hartsburg. "The games we have put together for 60 minutes, we've looked like a pretty good team.

"To me, this is the team we saw Saturday against New York. We can play with a lot of energy, check well and capitalize on our scoring chances. After the next 20 games, hopefully we're standing here and saying we were a consistent team over that 20 games. We just have to string a bunch of games together so it gives us a chance to win."

FISHER SKATES

C Mike Fisher skated for the first time yesterday since suffering a knee injury against the Rangers eight days ago, meaning there is a chance he might play vs. the Maple Leafs on Thursday. "To be honest, I have no idea. If I feel good, I'll play," said Fisher. "It feels not too bad. I'm starting to feel okay. That's a good sign."


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