BUFFALO — The late season surge has caused quite a conundrum for Ottawa hockey fans.
They want to see the Senators win, but as the faithful prepare for the rebuild to continue, they’d also like to see GM Bryan Murray and his scouting staff have the highest pick possible in June.
Trying to complete a perfect finish on this four-game road trip Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres, the players just want to compete.
“That’s all going to take care of itself,” said winger Nick Foligno Saturday. “If we were in a playoff position, I don’t think people would really care too much about the draft. I understand we’re not in that position and we’re looking for the future here.
“At the same time, there are 20 guys in that locker room that want to win every night. That is our job. With all due respect, we don’t care about that draft position as much as how we’re feeling and making sure we’re playing good hockey.
“Right now, we’re showing that those guys in that room can make a difference.
“I’m sure some fans are worried (about the draft), but in our locker room, we’re just worried about playing hard and it’s worked out really well so far.”
The Senators have pulled four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers in the race for No. 30 with 59 points and Ottawa has a game in hand. The team that finishes No. 30 gets the most balls in the lottery.
So, what’s happened here?
The Senators stripped down at the trade deadline and dealt away six players.
Coach Cory Clouston said the club is getting contributions from its young players, but the biggest factor has been the goaltending.
Not only has Craig Anderson stabilized the position since being dealt to Ottawa by the Avalanche, new backup Curtis McElhinney made 34 saves in his Senators debut, a 2-1 win over Tampa Friday.
“I’ve been saying this for years: The goaltenders have to be the backbone of your team,” said Clouston. “They don’t have to win you every game. You have to go out there and you have to believe that they’re going to be good for you every night.
“You can’t go into a game hoping and guessing and wishing that this guy is going to be there for you. Right now, especially with Curtis, you could feel on the bench that ‘This guy is here for us, he’s playing good for us. Let’s play hard. We’ve got a chance to win this game.’ Craig has been very good since he got here.”
With Brian Elliott gone to Colorado, Robin Lehner in the minors and Pascal Leclaire back in Montreal recovering from his hip/groin issues, the Senators are finally getting the saves they need.
“You have to be honest. Facts are facts. You give up five shots and you’re down 2-0. You give up 10 shots in (30 minutes) and you’re down 3-1. You can’t win any games,” said Clouston.
“You can’t have that confidence, presence and quiet poise that you have when you go on the ice knowing that you’ve got a chance to win every night. It’s a fine line between wins and losses, but if that goaltender is the backbone, you’re going to have a lot of nights where you’re going to win games.”
All the Senators want to do is keep rolling.
“We’re playing with energy. We’ve had some guys come in and do a great job for us,” said Foligno. “Once you start winning, and getting that winning feeling going, it’s a confidence thing.”