Senators have work to do

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:14 PM ET

A quarter of the way through the season and the Senators are still trying to find their identity.

They were supposed to be a top-5 team in the Eastern Conference, but as they reached the 20-game mark of the NHL schedule Friday with a 5-2 loss to the Blues, they are under .500 at 9-10-1.

If the Senators are going to make the playoffs, they have to find a way to play consistently every game, get more contributions offensively and get timely saves from either Brian Elliott or Pascal Leclaire.

That didn’t happen enough in the first quarter and if they don’t cure what ails them soon, they won’t make the post-season for the second time in three years.

In their 11 losses this season, the Senators have been outscored 49-15, shut out twice and in six of those games they’ve given up five or more goals. They lead the league in three-goal losses with eight.

There is cause for concern.

The players were given Saturday off after an emotional week and long road trip, but it will be back to the drawing board Sunday at practice with the high-flying Kings in town Monday night.

“We’ve been in this situation before,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said late Friday. “We’ve gone stretches where we played really well and we’ve gone stretches where we can’t get the gameplan we want at all.

“We’ve just got to go back, work and refocus. We’ve turned it around before.”

The Senators didn’t make many changes in the off-season.

They counted on a healthy Leclaire being able to shoulder the load in net, added blueliner Sergei Gonchar in free agency to improve the power play and expected their forwards to keeping improving offensively.

Leclaire got hurt and lost his starting job to Elliott, who lately has struggled to make the big save, which doesn’t bode well for a team that has leaned heavily on its goaltending.

Gonchar has been a nice addition, but is still fiiting in with his new teammates.

Up front, winger Milan Michalek has struggled after off-season knee surgery and hasn’t produced the way he was expected to. Centre Mike Fisher is playing hurt and just ended a seven-game slump with a goal in St. Louis. Winger Nick Foligno, who had an outstanding pre-season, has yet to score a goal.

The power play was 1-for-10 on the road trip. It should be better and that’s an area where coach Cory Clouston needs to find answers.

Clouston said after the loss to the Blues that the Senators aren’t sticking to the gameplan. They’re not putting together a full 60 minutes and that’s been their downfall in many games.

“We’re making it a lot harder than it is,” said Fisher, who prior to Friday hadn’t scored since Nov. 2 against Toronto. “We’ve got to find answers and stay focused. Mentally, some of the breakdowns, there’s no excuse for it.”

Centre Chris Kelly says the Senators haven’t played to their potential.

“It looks (like we’re struggling to be consistent),” said centre Chris Kelly. “The guys in here, we know we’re a good hockey team. We believe that we’re a good hockey team. It’s just going out there, game in and game out, and night in and night out and show that.

“There are signs of when we’re playing well that it’s encouraging. But there’s also signs where maybe we try to do a little too much to make a difference. Most of the time you end up hurting yourself or your linemates by trying to do too much.”

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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