Hours before Saturday’s game against the Bruins, Jesse Winchester walked by Nick Foligno’s stall in the Senators dressing room and predicted big things for his teammate.
“First star tonight, right here,” said Winchester. “I called Milo (Milan Michalek) last game. Tonight it’s Nick.”
Minutes after the game, GM Bryan Murray was pulling Foligno aside in the team’s weight room, but it wasn’t to congratulate him on a starring role.
Foligno, who spent the evening on Ottawa’s top line with Mike Fisher and Daniel Alfredsson, is still looking for his first goal of the season. In 11 games, he has three assists, which is not good enough from a Top 6 forward that he wants to be — and the offensively challenged Senators need him to be.
“He has to get some points,” Murray said. “As I said to him, I’ve think I’ve tried to go to bat for him with the coaches. To make sure he gets the opportunity, ice-time wise and with linemates. I just want him to take advantage of that. That’s all.”
Foligno’s struggles are not limited to his failure of putting the puck in the net. But they may be related. His aching desire to get untracked could be distracting him from detail in other areas, Murray said.
Then again, maybe it’s just his youth showing.
“I didn’t like the breakaway goal, when we were dead at the end of a power play and he turned the puck over,” Murray said of Foligno, who turned 23 Sunday. “That’s something, with a little experience, you’ve got to get the puck deep and let us get a line change. That’s all I talked to him about.
“I think you start to press. The other night, a couple of pucks bounced off his stick that normally wouldn’t, and I think it’s (him) trying to do a little more for the team. He’s a real competitive kid and he’s going to be good.
“It’s just a matter of we need him to step up a little more.”
Foligno’s not the only Senators forward having problems finding mesh. Peter Regin, Chris Neil and Winchester are also goal-less, while top centre Jason Spezza only has one in six games. On the back end, power-play quarterback Sergei Gonchar has yet to notch his first as a Senator.
Desperately missed, however, is input from the second wave, of which Foligno and Regin are at the crest.
Foligno won their battle at camp for the second-line left-wing job, primarily by scoring four goals in six pre-season games. That was four more than Regin, who has since served Top 6 duty by covering for injuries to Spezza and Michalek.
Combined, Foligno and Regin are averaging more than 30 minutes of ice time.
“They do have to start contributing offensively,” said coach Cory Clouston. “They’ve got to start shooting the puck and getting into paint, and contributing in that area.”
Foligno is trying to remain positive.
“It is frustrating,” he said of his drought. “I want to be able to score for this team. I believe in myself still. I’m not to the point where confidence is at an all-time low. I’ve got to make sure I put myself in those areas that are allowing me to score goals. Especially in a loss, it hurts more when you have some chances and you don’t bury.
“They’re coming. I’d be more mad if I didn’t have chances ... I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
The Senators dropped to 0-4 on Saturdays and finished October 4-6-1 when Tim Thomas became the first goalie to record three shutouts in his first six starts of the season since then-Blue Jacket Pascal Leclaire (who had four) in 2006-07. Despite the 4-0 loss to the B’s, Clouston said they’re on the right track as they head to Toronto for Tuesday’s game with the Maple Leafs.
“We felt we played a pretty solid 40 minutes,” he said of Saturday, noting the Senators “outchanced” the B’s and that Daniel Alfredsson’s disallowed goal was a “gamebreaker” that killed their momentum. “We’ve just got to keep working hard.”
Alfredsson agreed that the Senators are “not far off,” while Fisher said they have to start getting some results against division rivals, against whom they are 1-5.
“We’ve got to get up, especially for these divisional games,” said Fisher. “It’s going to be a good game Tuesday. We’ve got to be ready to battle.”