When the NHL released its schedule last summer, it’s safe to assume few Ottawa Senators fans circled the Jan. 28 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets as a crucial contest.
But here we are, with the Senators off to the Buckeye State Monday in desperate need of a bounceback game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. After winning eight consecutive games to climb into a playoff spot, the Blue Jackets finally hit a speed bump by losing 5-2 to the Buffalo Sabres Saturday.
The Senators will arrive in Columbus late Monday afternoon, while the Blue Jackets are in Carolina facing the Hurricanes. That could be an advantage for the Senators, but they were also outplayed Saturday by a Carolina team playing its third game in 3 ½ days.
It’s the latest in a long line of potential four-point games.
“The playoffs is what we’re looking at now,” said Clarke MacArthur, who had two assists in Saturday’s dispiriting 6-3 loss to Carolina. “We’ve got to find a way to put a good streak together here before the break.”
MacArthur said the challenge is facing a Columbus team that was bursting with confidence until losing to Buffalo.
“They’re on a (hot streak) right now and we’ve got to come out and put a ton of pressure on them. When you start winning seven or eight in a row like that, you’re feeling like you’re unbeatable, and it’s going to take a hard-working team to go in there and win a game.
“If we don’t think our backs are against the wall, we’re kidding ourselves, because every loss is a win for someone else and we’re two points further back. At the same time, you can’t panic, but you’ve got to be aware of the situation. We’ve got to start stringing them together — that’s all there is to it.”
Senators coach Paul MacLean said there’s no excuse for the team to not understand the importance of every single game.
“I thought the game in Washington (a 2-0 Senators win last Tuesday) was massive,” he said. “I thought the game (Saturday) was massive, with all the teams we’re playing around us (in the standings). That’s not changing. This race to the Olympic break is still on and we’re still in it.”
The Senators had a day off Sunday, but expect Craig Anderson to back in goal against Columbus. Backup Robin Lehner was pulled after allowing five goals on 22 shots in Saturday’s game before getting the hook.
MacLean says it’s not fair to put all the blame on Lehner. The defensive breakdowns of the early season have crept back into the club’s game.
“We just have to be better with the puck,” he said. “The last couple of games, we’ve gone back to some ghastly turnovers that have ended up putting our goaltenders in a real tough spot. We have to get back to the neater, more polished game we had previously.”