CHICAGO — The Senators will hit the midpoint of their NHL schedule Friday at the United Center against the Blackhawks.
They aren't close to where they expected to be and right now it looks like they could be playing meaningless games in March and April if they can't get out of their funk.
With a five-day break in the schedule, they arrived in the Windy City a day earlier than normal so the players could hold a team dinner Wednesday and then prepare to face the Blackhawks.
The first half hasn't been memorable. The 12th-place Senators were eight points back of the eighth-ranked Canadiens in the Eastern Conference going into Thursday night's action. Not only do the Senators have to catch the Habs, they also have to leapfrog the Sabres, Panthers and Hurricanes to get there.
"We don't necessarily want to put (the first half) behind us, we want to learn from it," said coach Cory Clouston Thursday. "We want to try to improve off of it and use it to motivate us.
"(There) was some very inconsistent play for the most part and we've had some injuries. We don't want to forget about it. We want to use it to improve our game. We haven't played to the level we want to play at and we haven't been as consistent. There's been moments throughout the season we've been good."
Nobody has performed up to their expectations and that's what is most frustrating for the Senators and their fans.
They should be in playoff contention, but are closer to being in the draft lottery.
"It's disappointing so far because there's a lot of optimism here," said defenceman Chris Campoli. "It's not over, we can still get back on track, but after 40 games we're not happy with our result and we know that we have to be better."
They are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL with only 90 goals in 40 games.
How does a team that has had a tough time winning two straight games all season suddenly start becoming consistent?
"There isn't an easy answer to that," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "It's something you have to build on by playing a few good games in a row. It's got to start coming in longer periods than we've had.
"You can't just say, 'Well, we've got to do this to be more consistent.' If it was (that way), we would have tried it already. We know how tough it is to win in this league. Special teams can be a difference. We have to be better offensively to win more consistently."
Clouston said the Senators should be better.
"We still have a belief in this team," said Clouston. "We still know there's time. We know time is running out or getting short, I should say. We can't sit back and wait. We've got to start putting wins together.
"There's still a belief in this team that we can make the playoffs."