Sens must improve in shootouts

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

The Senators are about to play the biggest game of their season.

Then they’ll only have 81 more of them that should fall into, or close behind, the same category.

Such is life for a middle-of-the-road team in the Parity Party that is an NHL campaign. Experts predict the Senators will wind up in the 6-10 slot of the Eastern Conference, which means you may have to wait until their April 9 visit to Boston to find out if there will be more games at Scotiabank Place beyond the regular season finale.

Just one, skinny little point separated the seventh- and ninth-place teams in the final standings last spring. It was all that put the Canadiens into the playoffs ahead of the Rangers, who would have slipped into the Cup tournament had they outlasted the Flyers in a Game 82 shootout.

If he has said it once, Daniel Alfredsson has said it three dozen times that the Senators just want to have a good start and get themselves into the playoffs. Once they get there, anything can happen.

Exhibit A: Montreal and Philadelphia made it to the 2010 conference final and the Flyers came within a goal of winning the whole thing.

The point is the Senators best get good at shootouts. Last season, they were average.

“That’s an area we need to make sure we have a little more information going into the games,” said coach Cory Clouston.

They haven’t formally practised shootouts, although over the season players engage in a “Juice Boy” competition that hones those skills.

“It’s a tough thing to practise,” said Alfredsson. “Once you do something in practice, when there’s 20,000 people in the stands, you might not want to do the same moves.”

Last season, the Senators were 5-5 in shootouts. While four of the eight teams to make the playoffs were above the .500 mark, only one of the seven teams to miss won more shootouts than it lost. 

In the West, six of the eight playoff teams finished above .500 in shootouts, led by the Coyotes and their 14-6 record.

“We haven’t been a good shootout team, but I think we got better last year,” said Alfredsson. “Hopefully we can improve that. Hopefully we don’t get put in that situation too often, but it’s pretty much inevitable to have from 7-10, at least. And that could be a big difference.”

Alex Kovalev was the Senators’ best shootout guy in 2009-10, scoring five times (including a team-high two game deciding goals) for a 55.6% success rate. Jason Spezza was next with three goals (42.9%), followed by Mike Fisher (two goals, 40%), Alfredsson (two goals, 28.6%) and Ryan Shannon (one goal, 100%).

Jarkko Ruutu, Milan Michalek and Nick Foligno were all 0-1 in shootouts.

“Alex is one of the best in the league,” said Clouston. “Daniel has shown he can be a real pressure guy. And we have a couple of guys we don’t use a whole lot, but at times they’ve shown they can score.

Kaspars Daugavins, who plays for the Binghamton Senators, scored a shootout goal this week by flipping his stick around and carrying the puck ringette style before completing the perfect spinarama when he arrived at the crease.

“That won’t work in the NHL,” said Alfredsson. “I just think the goalies cover too much of the net for that. They’re more patient.”

That’s a word Clouston uses to describe the shootout performances of goalies Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott.

“They can get better,” said Clouston. When they’re on their game and not gambling, they’re just confident and comfortable, being patient ... I think that’s the biggest thing with goaltenders on a shootout ... That is an area that we have to work on.”


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