Sens aim to keep pace without injured stars

Don Brennan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:24 PM ET

OTTAWA — There’s no two ways about it: The Senators kick off the second half of their season this afternoon needing to be better than they were in the first half.

Doubling the 46 points they have would still leave them one short of what it took to make the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2008-09. And of their 41 remaining games, they play 24 on the road, where they’ve only won six times so far this season.

Staying in the thick of the playoff race until injured stars Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza return next month will be the trick.

“I like the fact that we compete every night,” GM Bryan Murray said yesterday. “I think defensively we’ve done it looks like a real good job in the last month or month and a half, playing short-handed as we have a lot of the first half. It seems people have had a chance and they’ve stepped up.

“We don’t score as easily as you might like, but that seems to be a trend around the NHL anyway. I think what we’ve done is put ourselves in position to be a real contending team in the second half, and that’s really all you want.

“I didn’t think we were going to run away with anything, but we’re in the mix for, No. 1, a playoff spot, which is most important, and No. 2, if we keep getting the performance we have from some of our younger guys, we look like we have a chance to be a real good team in the second half.”

Common sense suggests that aiding the chances of keeping afloat until the return of Nos. 11 and 19 would be getting some more goals from Alex Kovalev, the $5-million man who has only scored in one of his last 27 games.

But Murray is satisfied with what Kovalev has accomplished to date, including his prowess in the shootout. The shifty Russian has scored on 4-of-7 attempts — putting him just one off the pace of league-leader Sidney Crosby — and seems unstoppable of late.

“I think he’s exactly what we thought he was,” said Murray. “He occupies people. He makes players that play with him better. I think Mike Fisher is having a real good year, and part of it certainly is Mike Fisher. He works and competes hard every single night. But I also think Kovalev, and people of that nature, move the puck and occupy defenders, can find the open man. I’d probably like to see him score a few more goals, but we also know that he can help us win hockey games.”

Also struggling is Milan Michalek, who started the season like his hair was on fire, but has since had his scoring rate taper off dramatically. Michalek still leads the team in goals with 16, but only has one in his last 16 games.

“For sure right now it’s not going good for me,” said Michalek. “The last couple of games I didn’t have any points or score goals, but I have to work hard and hopefully it’s going to come. Seems like I work for everything so hard, and the pucks bounce away. When it goes good, everything goes good for you. It happens.

‘Stay positive’

“That’s hockey. The season is long, and sometimes it’s going in and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you have to stay positive and do the little things good. I know it’s going to come later.”

Coach Cory Clouston says Michalek remains a larger contributor to the success of the penalty killing team.

“He just has to get back to going to the net a little bit more,” said Clouston. “Overall, he’s played well, he just has to be a little bit more in the paint, in that battle area, where he was scoring goals off tips, deflections, those type of goals.”

Clouston hopes Michalek rediscovers his sniffing around the blue on the power play, when the Senators continue to post embarrassing statistics. Currently, they ranked 28th in the category, with just one goal in their last 18 chances.

“We haven’t seen a lot of power plays,” said defenceman Chris Campoli. “It’s tough when every two games, you’re seeing two or three power plays. It’s tough to get into a rhythm sometimes. It’s going to help us win games, if we get that going.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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