OTTAWA - For a team everybody just knows is going to have so much trouble scoring this season, the Senators sure have patted each other on the head a lot.
Especially in third periods.
Heading into Tuesday’s games, Ottawa led the NHL in third-period goals with 41. The powerful Bruins and Penguins were next in line, with 39 and 35 goals, respectively.
The Senators’ latest third-period explosion occurred Monday night, when they scored three unanswered goals in the final 11:02 for a 4-2 come-from-behind win over Tampa.
The victory pulled the resilient Senators into a seventh-place tie with the Sabres in the Eastern Conference standings.
Along with their scoring exploits, the Senators have also surrendered 34 goals in the third period, second-most in the league. But that they’re still on the positive side of the ledger is, well, a huge plus.
While crediting goalie Craig Anderson with keeping the team in games through two periods, Zack Smith said “leadership” is also a key factor in Ottawa’s strong finishes.
“On the ice and in the room,” said Smith. “We have a young team, so that’s a big part of it. We have some older, veteran players who have been around for a while, and it’s nice to have cool heads within the group. They help out a lot with that.”
Even more instrumental, likely, is the coaching methods of Paul MacLean.
Since Day 1, he has preached to his team that it play hard over the entire ice surface and he has emphasized skating, skating and a little more skating.
On the Senators’ return to work after a day off, it’s exhausting watching them practise.
“What we’ve tried to establish is a work ethic for 60 or 65 minutes, depending on how long the games are,” MacLean said when asked about the Senators’ second and third wind. “I think that belief that we can skate for 60 minutes has been a very positive thing for us. The results obviously build confidence. And I think it’s becoming part of our identity as a team, that we play for 60 minutes or 65 minutes, and we play hard. I know it’s a priority for me, that our team is able to skate.
“We’ve skated a lot through training camp and even (Tuesday) we skated a bit more than some other teams would have done on a day between games. But that’s just my belief in what a priority is for our team to be able to compete every night the way we want them to. The style we want them to play is that they have to be able to skate and they have to do it for 60 minutes.”
MacLean also wants his players to finish. The Senators couldn’t do that in Dallas last week, when they squandered a lead with five minutes to go in the third. But they dug deep to make sure Tampa couldn’t rally Monday.
The Senators built a fortress around Anderson in the final minutes, with few Lightning shots getting through to the net. MacLean pointed out that two of the blocked shots came from rookie forward Kaspars Daugavins and Erik Condra.
“I would like to say we showed a lot of composure as opposed to desperation,” said MacLean. “That we’re learning how to play with a lead and how to bring a lead home. It’s simpler with a two-goal advantage than a one goal-advantage, but I thought the players on the ice did a real good job of defending the way they need to at that time.”
Now, 24 hours after a Bob Seger concert at Scotiabank Place, the Senators will practise their Night Moves on the Capitals in their second of nine home games this month.
It’s a big game, if there is such a thing before Christmas, as the Caps are two points behind the Senators for eighth spot in the East.
“I think it’s just another game for us,” shrugged Anderson, who will make his seventh consecutive start. “Two points on the line, we’re at home, so we should have the home-field advantage that way. Any team you play in the Eastern Conference, it’s a four-point game. They’re all big.”