As the weather warms, the Senators’ power play is cooling off.
First place in the Northeast Division might still be theirs if only they could have taken advantage of having a man advantage Saturday against the Maple Leafs.
Instead, they went 0-for-3 on the power play — including a 5-on-3 for 50 seconds — in a 3-1 loss that left them one point behind the Boston Bruins in their unexpected race for a lofty seed in the playoffs.
The gooseegg was much bigger and uglier the night before, when the Senators were 0-for-9 on the power play against Montreal. They were fortunate to escape that one with a 2-1 victory over a club that had no business taking them to overtime.
“Good pressure by the opposing teams,” Jason Spezza began when asked why the power play has taken a turn south. “I don’t think we’re quite as sharp as we were two or three games ago. You can get frustrated with a game like Montreal. We have to put these last two power-play games behind us. We’ve been climbing quite a bit, going pretty good. We have to get back to what we were doing well.”
Indeed. The Senators entered the weekend with a power play that ranked sixth in the league. By Sunday morning, it was 11th.
A more dramatic swing occurred earlier in the season. On Nov. 4, the Senators had the best power play in the NHL. On Jan. 1, it was 18th.
“We’ve got to shoot the puck and we’ve got to get it back,” said coach Paul MacLean. “We seem to be stationary as opposed to moving the puck.”
Going into the playoffs with the power play clicking is almost imperative for the Senators to have a chance at pulling off an upset.
“I think we had a little more poise before,” said Spezza. “I think now that we haven’t scored, we’re pressing a little bit and forcing shots, getting a few too many blocked.
For us, we just have to take a breath and look at what we did right, talk about what we were doing wrong and learn from it. Move forward, because the power play has been going good.”
Part of the recent problems could have to do with Spezza himself. To say it was a distracting week for the team’s top point producer and maestro of the power play would be an understatement.
Last Saturday, Spezza lost one of his best friends when Canadian skier Nik Zoricic was killed in Switzerland. When that accident wasn’t occupying his mind, Spezza had to be thinking about the impending birth of his second child. Wife Jennifer is expected to deliver any day.
Spezza didn’t pick up a point on the weekend — and he was on the ice for 11:04 of power-play time against the Habs.
“As players, we have to focus when we’re here at the rink. I’m no different,” he said. “I know when I get to the rink, it’s my time here. I try to maintain my focus. It’s all you can do as a player. It’s never easy. I’ve got a lot going on. But you try to clear your mind.
“It’s been a pretty hard week for me. But you have to clear your mind when you’re here and try to play. No excuse.”
Also no excuse, but fact, is that Montreal has the best penalty-killing numbers on the road in the league. No. 2 in that category is the New Jersey Devils, who happen to be Tuesday’s visitors at Scotiabank Place.
Not only are the Devils proficient at surviving penalties, but they also lead the league in short-handed goals with 14.
While catching the Bruins for first in the division may still mean a first-round matchup with the defending champs, overtaking the sixth-place Devils would seem to be a more enticing proposition. That way, the Senators could draw the winner of the Southeast Division — Florida, Washington or the Winnipeg Jets.
Most would agree their chances of advancing are better taking that route.
THIS AND THAT
To fully appreciate the turnaround in play of Filip Kuba, one needs only to look at the plus-minus category. The Senators’ defenceman currently ranks tied for third in the league with plus-25 rating —- same as Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, one better than Boston’s Zdeno Chara and just six back of league-leader Patrice Bergeron. Last season, Kuba had the sixth-worst mark with a minus-26. People will forever argue the significance of the statistic, but a plus-51 swing makes a strong case for Kuba as he plays for his next contract. That said, the 35-year-old Czech remains unlikely to re-sign with the Senators, as clubs are surely prepared to offer Kuba considerably more money than the Senators want to cough up to keep him from testing the unrestricted free-agent waters ... The hottest shooter in the Senators lineup is rookie Colin Greening, who has a goal in each of the team’s last three games. In picking up his 16th of the season Saturday, Greening was able to finally get over a hump. While scoring six goals in 24 games for Ottawa during the 2010-11 campaign, he also had 15 in 59 games for Binghamton. Prior to that, Greening had 15 goals in each of his last two seasons at Cornell, where he scored 14 as a sophomore and 11 as a freshman. It’s was in 2005-06, when he had 27 goals in 56 games for the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL that Greening lit the lamp more often than he has for the Senators this season.