Back to business for the Senators

Back to business for the Senators

The nature of the day – a fun afternoon skills competition in front of more than 13,000 fans – allowed for a lighthearted mood around the Ottawa Senators dressing room Wednesday.

The players’ children had the run of the place – the Carkner and Alfredsson youngsters were enjoying a spirited pick up game of ball hockey in the middle of the dressing room following the skills show – and Zenon Konopka’s pet rabbit, Hoppy, was a star attraction. Head coach Paul MacLean took a rare day off.

Rest assured, it will be back to serious business Thursday, as the Senators aim to put behind them Tuesday’s ugly 6-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens to prepare for Friday’s meeting against the suddenly hot Calgary Flames. That game will be quickly followed by a trip to Buffalo for a game against the Sabres on New Year’s Eve Saturday.

“It’s a tough game,” centre Jason Spezza said of the loss to the Canadiens, the first victory for new Montreal coach and former Senators captain Randy Cunneyworth. “We start the game well and then we get scored on shorthanded. For the most part, we have to park a game like that. We’ve played pretty good hockey in the last little bit and we have to make sure we just stick to it and not let a game like that get us down.”

Even though Spezza believes the Senators outplayed the Canadiens for long stretches of the game, he says it’s important to stop the losing streak as quickly as possible – Ottawa went into the Christmas break with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes – to keep negative thoughts out of the dressing room.

He insists the Senators didn’t underestimate the Canadiens, who came into the game reeling, on a five-game losing streak.

“We were ready for them. We knew they were going to give us their best game. A win would have put us up nine points on them in the standings, but c’est la vie, that’s how it goes. Now, we’ve got other games and it’s important to get back to winning.”

The Senators need goaltender Craig Anderson to bounce back quickly. His inconsistency is troubling. He allowed four goals on only seven shots before being relieved by Alex Auld. It was especially disappointing, considering that he was the star in the Senators’ loss to Carolina. After a shaky start, Anderson’s save percentage had gradually climbed up to the .899 mark before facing Montreal. Now, it has slipped back to .895 and he’ll need several more consecutive quality starts to challenge the .900 mark again.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was coy when asked about the letdown which comes when a goaltender allows four goals on seven shots, acknowledging it’s tough to win.

“For sure it is, we all know, but the goals we gave up, maybe the first one (Anderson) could maybe challenge more, but the other two, we’ve got to box out more in front,” said Alfredsson, believing the Canadiens were allowed too many tap-in goals. “We’ve been on the other side sometimes, where everything we touch goes in and especially late in games.”

Despite the defeat, Alfredsson is far from discouraged.

“We came out strong,” he said. “The mood in the room was good. We knew the situation Montreal was in, that they hadn’t won since they changed coaches and that they would probably use the holidays here as a new starting point, to start out fresh. We put a lot of pressure on them in the first period, but we didn’t capitalize on our chances.”

PHILLIPS LOOKS TO RETURN: The Senators could have Chris Phillips back from his upper body injury. Phillips, whose streak of playing in 311 consecutive games ended against Montreal, will practice Thursday.

“We’ll see how it responds,” he said.

Phillips says it wasn’t easy sitting out, but maintains it was the right decision.

“It has been a long time since I missed one (dating back to Feb.2, 2008),” he said. “It’s hard, no matter what, watching and not being in there and not being able to contribute. I take pride in that. It is a tough game and you play through games where not 100 per cent, but there comes that line where you don’t want to just show up to get your games played or keep your streak going and jeopardize the team.”

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