Senators look to stop bleeding

Senators forward Nick Foligno fights with Canucks forward Dale Weise at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa,...

Senators forward Nick Foligno fights with Canucks forward Dale Weise at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ont., Dec. 10, 2011. (DARREN BROWN/QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

OTTAWA - It took just “three or four” stitches to close the deep, gushing gash between Chris Neil’s eyes Thursday in New Jersey.

Now, what’s it going to take for the Senators to stop their bleeding?

Losers of three in a row and five times in their last six games, the Senators are still hanging with the group battling for a Top 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. But with a game in Buffalo Tuesday, then back home to entertain the Bruins Wednesday and Penguins Friday, things aren’t getting easier any time soon.

“It hasn’t been easy the first 30 games, either,” said coach Paul MacLean, whose team had the day off Sunday. “I don’t anticipate the last 52 to be easier.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. This is a tough league. Real tough league to play in. We’re competing, and we’re going to come here again on Monday and get ourselves ready to play Tuesday in Buffalo. We’re going to come, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to give it our best shot.”

The absence of veteran defenceman Filip Kuba has certainly been felt. The Senators are 1-3-2 since he suffered a left shoulder injury that, on Saturday, MacLean said should keep him out another week. Minus Kuba, they have had to lean harder on the younger blueliners. Jared Cowen has thrived with the extra workload. In Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Vancouver, David Rundblad struggled.

The slick rookie was caught up ice on the Ryan Kesler goal that gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead before the midway mark of the first period.

Digging themselves early holes has been a trait of the Senators most of the season. No team in the NHL has allowed more than the 31 first-period goals surrendered by Ottawa.

Meanwhile, the Senators have only scored 19 times in the opening 20 minutes.

“We played with pretty good urgency in the third. We’ve got to get that right from the get-go,” goalie Craig Anderson said after the loss to Vancouver. “We’ve got to come out and play a full 60 minutes. We had a great start in New Jersey and (Saturday) was the complete opposite. At the start of the game we had a few falters, then figured we should turn it on.

“We just need to get mentally ready and be prepared to play the whole 60 minutes. Do whatever it takes to get mentally prepared. Mistakes can be made. Definitely, when you’re young and you haven’t had some experience, when you do have an off-shift, you need to learn how to respond and have your best shift right after that.”

The Senators could also use Sergei Gonchar, who’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury. But the truth is, their power play has been slipping even before Gonchar was injured in New Jersey.

Ranked No. 1 not so long ago, the Senators’ power play is now 12th. In the last two games, not even 5-on-3 advantages have helped. The problem stems from difficulties entering the offensive zone.

“Once we’re there, we don’t seem to be able to establish a shot anywhere, with any consequence,” said MacLean. “We just have to keep practising.”

Staying away from the box themselves a little more would also help the cause. The Senators are the third-most penalized team in the league. It’s tough to get momentum while short-handed.

“You’re always concerned when you don’t win,” said MacLean, who thought the Senators played the Canucks “hard” for the most part. “There are still areas of our game that have to get better. Our power play and our special teams have to continue to get better. And our execution with the puck has to get much better.”

That should help stop the bleeding.


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