Desperate Sens need to stop fall

DON BRENNAN , QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:47 PM ET

Oh, how the mighty are falling.

Just two months after referring to his Senators as one of the top five teams in the league and predicting they'd go "deep" into the playoffs, owner Eugene Melnyk was somewhat more reserved with his comments Friday.

In fact, Melnyk had to address the possibility that the Senators might yet be guilty of one of the greatest collapses of all-time and miss the post-season tournament altogether.

"I have absolute confidence that with the players we have and the coaching staff we have, we will obviously make the playoffs," Melnyk said in an interview on Torontoıs FAN 590, before adding in his usual brash fashion:

"There's no question in my mind and once the playoffs start, it's a whole new ballgame and our guys are going to rise to the top."

That's not the easy sell it once was, to be sure.

Blame it once again on the Olympic Games, which scuttled the Senatorsı Cup hopes in 2006 when star goalie Dominik Hasek suffered a season-ending aductor injury representing his country. Four years later, the Senators are trying to find the game they had before the worldıs best winter athletes gathered in Vancouver.

Before the 2010 Games, the Senators were the NHL's hottest team and leading the Northeast Division. And since returning from the two-week break, theyıve been awful.

The Senators are 1-6-1 in the eight games, of which only one -- a 5-1 loss to Vancouver considered one of Ottawaıs worst efforts in years -- was against a team that is currently occupying a playoff position.

Saturday afternoon, they face another team that will pack up for the summer in the second week of April, a team which has won just two of its last nine games. But these days, the Senators cannot be taking the Dallas Stars or anybody else lightly.

From contenders for the conference title, they have dropped to sixth place, just four points up on the eighth-place Bruins and eight points ahead of Atlanta and the Rangers - and from being on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

"I think there's obviously some desperation now," centre Jason Spezza said after Fridayıs practice in Dallas. "We realize we've kind of given away our cushion a little bit, but we earned our cushion, so it was there for us to have.

"Right now we're finding a way to lose ... before (we) were finding a way to win. That's how sports are sometimes. You ride the highs and lows ... hopefully we can get it going and feeling good about our game going into the playoffs.²

The most recent method in which the Senators lost was by giving up three unanswered third-period goals to a Thrashers team that obviously wanted it more than Ottawa. A day later, coach Cory Clouston was still having a hard time forgiving what he thought was a bad penalty call on defenceman Andy Sutton, which led to a power-play goal that lost his team's momentum and stood as the eventual winnner.

The NHL is ultra-sensitive to head shots these days, but Clouston said that was "just a very good hit ... if weıre trying to take that out of hockey, we're going in the wrong direction."

The Senators do not feel like a beaten team.

"Believe it or not, our spirits are still high," said Clouston. "We still feel good about ourselves, but we know that we got ourselves into this mess and we're the only ones who can get ourselves out of it."

In his rallying cry Friday, Clouston implored his players to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

"It's easy when things are going well," he said. "Itıs easy to be a player, itıs easy to be a coach, itıs easy to be a GM. This is when we really have to just buckle down, do what we do best, and show our true character. Thatıs what it comes down to."

With Milan Michalek likely to miss at least one game with a leg injury, the Senators have somebody on their injury report again. That means against the Stars theyıll have to make a healthy scratch of a forward and a defenceman, but Clouston isnıt about to make a surprise decision to punish any of his current underachievers.

"We donıt have that healthy of a team to be able to start benching guys," he said. "And at this time of the year, if it takes you to be benched to get your ass in gear, then there's something wrong.

"It's not because weıre not trying. It's not because they don't care. It's because they're not doing the right thing. We're squeezing the stick, weıve gotten away from our game ... at times it may appear of effort, but itıs not because we donıt care or we donıt want it."


Photos