OTTAWA - With six games remaining in their regular season, the Senators have gone from being the hunter to the hunted.
Thanks to its recent offensive struggles, Ottawa has allowed both the Sabres and Capitals to nearly run it down.
And don’t look now, but the surprising Jets are nipping at the Senators’ heels with a showdown between the two teams set for Winnipeg on Monday night.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in the NHL playoff race, when you consider a little more than a week ago, the Senators sat atop of the Northeast Division — albeit for a brief time, but nonetheless were in first place and the No. 3 seed — but now find themselves fighting for their playoff lives thanks to a string of recent losses.
It’s unbelievable how your emotions and body react to the different situations you find yourself in as a player when you’re battling it out down the stretch drive in the regular season.
Back in 1997, when I was playing for the Senators, we were chasing down eighth place in the Eastern Conference trying to get into the playoffs for the first time in modern history for the franchise.
Even though most of us were all playing with some sort of injury or ailment, to a man we were energized to come to the rink each day because of the excitement of being in a playoff race and trying to catch the teams in front of us.
We were hungry to get into the playoffs and there’s something to be said for teams that are in the hunting position in the standings.
As a team, you have a simple goal and it’s broken down on how many points you think you’ll need to overtake the team in front of you.
And every game you win, that magic number gets smaller and smaller.
The team that is chasing always seems to be a little more loose and playing with a reckless abandon with absolutely no fear of losing, vs. the team that is trying to hold on to its playoff position — where the Senators find themselves now.
The trick for the team that is trying to hold on to its position in the standings is that it’s a lot easier said than done.
There’s a reason teams usually play differently when they get up a few goals early in a game and then often have a lapse in the second period.
It’s human nature to start playing safe and playing not to lose when things start to get a little tense or teams start to creep up on you in the standings like what is happening to the Senators right now.
One of the best coaches I ever had was Craig Ramsey.
He was the assistant coach in Ottawa and his favourite hockey saying was “don’t play safe, safe is death.”
For the Senators, they just need to get back into the hunting mood and stop playing safe.