Senators slow learners

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:07 AM ET

OTTAWA - One of the great quips in Senators history was delivered by forward Doug Smail during the very long and difficult first season.

“We’re not a bad team,” insisted Smail. “We just play in a really good league.”

Two decades later, Ottawa could use the same excuse for its dismal start.

Heading into play Wednesday, the six teams the Senators had faced boasted a combined 22-1-2 record. The one loss, by Colorado, was at the hands of Detroit, which dumped the Senators in Game 1.

So the group had not dropped a game in regulation time outside itself.

The Senators, however, are not using stiff competition as an excuse for their 1-5 record.

“We’ve played some good hockey clubs, but we haven’t played well against good hockey clubs,” said Jason Spezza. “Washington is probably one of the best teams, if not the best team in the East. We play a good game and we can compete with them. That’s no excuse for how we play against Colorado or Philly. They’re good teams, give them credit. But we’re giving them scoring chances three feet in front of our net. You can’t do that in this league.”

Without risking embarrassment, that is.

The Senators finally get to see how the other half lives when the Winnipeg Jets (1-3-0) visit Scotiabank Place Thursday and the Columbus Blue Jackets (0-5-1) drop by on Saturday.

Sergei Gonchar is expected back in the lineup against the Jets after a one-game stint on the shelf with a bruised ankle. The Senators’ power play missed Gonchar. It was rolling along before he went down, and 0-for-5 with an (almost) all Swedish, no finish look against the Flyers.

“I want to be there. I want to make sure I’m helping the team the way I can,” said Gonchar. “Obviously, (Tuesday’s 7-2 loss) was tough for me to see.”

The Senators have been lousy at home. They’ve lost their last two games at Scotiabank Place by a combined 14-3 score.

They’ve also had horrible starts. They have been outscored 13-2 in first periods, and 19-4 in the opening 40 minutes of games.

“It’s frustrating when you can’t get the most out of everybody,” said Daniel Alfredsson. “Two home games here where we just let it slip away, we’ve been just not good enough. We’ve just got to handle the situations a lot better.

“The way we’re playing now, it’s almost like we’re not on the same page, as a group. Then it’s tough to make the breakouts you need to. We haven’t done it consistently enough.

“You look at Colorado game and Philly, it’s short spurts. We let in one, two, three goals in fairly quickly. It’s tough to come back from that. We need to do a much better job of handling the adversity when we get one against us, we’ve got to hold and fight back better. We can’t let the game slip away early like that.

“We need better starts.

“It’s another battle for us at home,” continued Alfredsson. “We can’t be fancy. We’ve got to keep it simple at home, too. We can put on a show for the fans, but that has to be the right kind of show. Where if we have to grind it out, that’s what we have to do. I think everybody will see the effort, when they see everybody is playing hard to play defence, and if we have to win the game in the last 10 minutes, that’s what we should do.”

Coach Paul MacLean ran the Senators hard at Wednesday’s practice, focusing mostly on defence and penalty killing. The Senators are suddenly having all sorts of trouble short-handed.

“Not to say we fixed it all (Wednesday), but I think we took some strides towards it,” said MacLean. “Getting started would be a good idea for this team as well. I’m not sure if we have a mental block. Sometimes if you expect things to go badly, they go badly. I’m not sure if we have the mindset that we think we’re going to get scored on first, and then we make sure that happens. That’s one of the things that’s a concern. We’d rather come out (Thursday) and try to dictate the way the game is played at the start, and see how we can play with the lead for more than three minutes.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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