Gordon: A glimmer of hope for the Ottawa Senators

After 60 minutes of fighting back against the blue crush in the stands and on the ice, it was clear a wave of relief had washed over the Ottawa Senators.

Gordon: A glimmer of hope for the Ottawa Senators
James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs makes a shoulder save against Jared Cowen #2 of the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on December 7, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

After 60 minutes of fighting back against the blue crush in the stands and on the ice, it was clear a wave of relief had washed over the Ottawa Senators.

Saturday night’s showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre was about more than one game in an 82-game schedule, of course, try as the team might to spin it the opposite way.

It was about the standings, which showed the Senators were in danger of falling nine points back of their provincial rivals for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. It was about avoiding the ignominy of fading away in front of an embarrassing, overwhelmingly pro-Toronto “home” crowd.

It was about the possibility of another couple days of answering questions about why they can’t get it done this season, why they couldn’t get it done in Game 30, the milestone at which coach Paul MacLean had earlier said, “you are what you are.”

In a season full of lows, leaving the rink Saturday night empty-handed would have been the lowest.

And it looked like that’s exactly what was about to happen. Despite badly outshooting their opponent through 40 minutes, the Senators found themselves down 3-1 against a squad that was 10-1-2 when leading after two.

Captain Jason Spezza said the players talked during the intermission and they agreed the third would be “our most important period of the season.”

Then Erik Condra scored at 2:23 of the final frame and Erik Karlsson tied things up on the power play at 10:30 to force overtime. That the Senators wound up losing 4-3 in a shootout — considered by many players to be little more than a coin flip — didn’t dampen their view of the game.

The relief of the turnaround was obvious on the face and in the words of captain Spezza, who has clearly felt the strains of leadership at times this season. Heavy is the sweater that carries the C, especially when things aren’t going well.

“I think there was some good things done (Saturday night),” Spezza said. “I think getting 50 shots on net, we cycled the puck low, I don’t think we gave them a lot of high-quality scoring chances other than their power play — their power play was good — but it’s a big game, it’s a big battle-back game for us.

“We couldn’t afford to drop the two points, too, and it’s just something to build off,” he added. “We have three big games coming up and we have to start making up some ground.”

Lost in the uneven results of last couple of weeks is the fact that Senators actually are making progress. They’ve outshot their opponents in six consecutive games, and some of the differentials have been gaudy.

Against Toronto, Ottawa held a 50-31 advantage. The previous game, a 3-1 loss to Tampa, it was 34-22. The win over the Florida Panthers the night before that: 45-32. And so on.

“We’re not getting the consistent results we want, but I think the effort in the last six games probably has been our best six-game block of the season, so you’d like to think first comes the process, then comes the result.”

Add in the fact advanced hockey metrics suggest Toronto is well overdue to plummet down the Eastern Conference standings and there’s reason to believe ground can be made up in a hurry. Right now, the Leafs are winning despite getting carpet-bombed almost every night.

“See how long that lasts,” said former Leaf Clarke MacArthur, who had the Senators’ other goal Saturday. “Give up 50 shots a game … your goalies are going to be pretty worn out. You’ve got to give them credit — their goalies are playing well.”

Senators coach Paul MacLean pointed out that the Senators threw around 90 pucks at the opposition net Saturday, with more than half getting through.

MacLean was asked about the 30 games comment, which had stood out coming from a coach who sometimes uses a lot of words to tell the press as little as he can.

“Game 30 is in the books — we are what we are,” he said. “Right now, we’re an inconsistent team that has a lot of potential for growth, a lot of opportunity to be better, but we’re not going to get better unless we come here and make a commitment to work every day to get better.

“I think that’s the big goal that we have, setting forth now, starting on Monday (against the Philadelphia Flyers) is: We’ve got to find a way to be better, so we’ve got to continue to practice harder, we’ve got to play harder, we’ve got to execute with the puck better and we have to learn to become a much better and more consistent team.”

Because a glimmer of hope is just that — a glimmer. According to the web site sportsclubstats.com, the Senators were already down to a 13.9 per cent probability of making the playoffs prior to Sunday night’s games.

They still have nine Canadian Tire Centre contests left this home-heavy month to improve on a 4-8-3 record here.

But they need to win now.

Soon, shots for and against won’t matter, and we really will know what the Senators are: A realistic playoff contender, or free for golf in mid-April.

Twitter.com/SensReporter

SHOOTING GALLERY

DATE OPPONENT SHOTS FOR SHOTS AGAINST RESULT
Dec. 7 TOR 50 31 L 4-3 (SO)
Dec. 5 TB 34 22 L 3-1
Dec. 3 FLA 45 32 W 4-2
Dec. 1 DET 32 22 L 4-2
Nov. 28 VAN 39 28 L 5-2
Nov. 27 WSH 40 33 W 6-4
Nov. 24 CAR 36 36 L 4-1

Tags:

What do you think? Leave a comment