Sens winning battle for respect

DON BRENNAN, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

There are many Senators questions the good folks of Ottawa have to be asking each other as they return to work after the fourth weekend of the schedule and with game No. 10 — Wednesday in Florida — on the sunny horizon.

Among them: How is a power play that features so many talented players so absolutely horrible? What would possess Anton Volchenkov to abandon the front of his net to fetch a stick in the final half-minute of a game his team is leading by one goal? What does Jason Spezza have to do to score? Will Daniel Alfredsson ever get old? Can Milan Michalek keep up a torrid pace that currently sees him finishing the season with 54 goals and zero assists?

By now, most should agree on one thing. After nine games, the Senators at least look like they are back on the road to respectability.

“It’s so early in the season, but every time we’ve stepped on the ice, if we haven’t won, we’ve given ourselves a chance to,” Chris Phillips, perhaps the most consistent of the bunch and owner of a team-leading plus-6, said following Saturday’s 88-second meltdown and disappointing 4-3 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins.

For 58:32, the Senators were the much better team and would have had an insurmountable lead if not for the heroics of B’s goalie Tim Thomas.

“We’re getting lots of chances, we’re getting shots, we’re playing the game right, we’re playing together. We’re playing with intensity.”

At 5-2-2 and lodged in the middle of a four-team pack separated by three points atop the Northeast Division, the Senators would be third in the conference had they nabbed all that was there for the taking the last two games.

The prognosticators, who called for the Senators to miss the playoffs for a second season in a row, might say the points they squandered will come back to haunt them.

For their part, the Senators don’t believe they’ll be in a position to worry.

“We’ve got higher expectations in here than what everyone else has for us,” said Phillips. “Coming off a season that we missed the playoffs, I think that there’s a lot of people that weren’t even picking us to get in. Our expectations are a lot higher than that. I’m not going to sit here and predict where we’re going to end up, or what’s going to happen this season, but if we continue to do those things on a consistent basis, I think when it comes down to the end of it, we’ll be in good shape.

“There’s no question that everyone who was here last year cares deeply about this team and were very upset about not making (the playoffs). That certainly leaves you with a burning desire to want to get back in there that much more.”

A good Senators start would be even better had they scored more when given opportunities. As of Sunday, Ottawa’s power play was second-worst in the NHL, having clicked on just 4-of-35 chances.

Sad fact is, the Senators have the same number of short-handed goals, and lead the league in that department.

“Obviously, our power play has to be better. Obviously,” said coach Cory Clouston. “We’ve got to get more execution, more traffic to the net, simplify, and not get outworked. We work extremely hard on the penalty kill. Our work ethic has to pick up as well on the power play.”

Ice chips

If D Erik Karlsson was in danger of being shipped back to Sweden at the 10-game mark for the team to save a year on his contract, he likely tiptoed around it with his performance Saturday. In what was easily his best game so far in the NHL, the teenager had a solid 18:44 of ice time and led all players from both teams with four takeaways ... Linemates Spezza and Michalek continue to offer an interesting contrast on the scoresheet. One can’t score and the other can’t register a helper. “I want to get on the board, especially in big games like this,” said Spezza, who does have eight assists, but was victimized by yet another goalie Saturday. “I’ve just got to keep plugging away. I’ve just got to be resilient. We’ve still got lots of hockey left.” Michalek is not only playing a solid, all-round game, but with six goals, has just two fewer than Dany Heatley. “No, I didn’t see his numbers,” Michalek said with a laugh. “It’s going in now and hopefully it’s going to keep going like that. I feel good.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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