Gordon: Senators need a break in more ways than one

Marc Methot was supposed to have a nice afternoon Saturday.

Gordon: Senators need a break in more ways than one
Ottawa Senators Marc Methot (3) celebrates his goal with teammate Kyle Turris (7) as Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith (41) look on during first period NHL hockey action in Ottawa Saturday, December 21, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Marc Methot was supposed to have a nice afternoon Saturday.

First, he thought he’d picked up his first ever power play goal and first multi-goal game in 355 National Hockey League contests. And he must have thought that would be enough to propel his team to its first win in three tries.

Little did he know, the NHL would take that power play goal away after the game (Kyle Turris was found to have tipped the puck) and the Phoenix Coyotes would take away what looked like a sure victory.

Former Senator Antoine Vermette scored a power play goal with 2:13 remaining in regulation and completed a hat trick in overtime to propel the desert dogs to a 4-3 decision.

Perhaps Canadian Tire Centre arena staffers were on to something when they used their novelty Gatling gun to fire stress balls into the stands Saturday.

Methot looked like he could have used one as he tried to put into words how it could all go so wrong again.

“I’m sick of standing here and saying the same things,” he said afterwards. “You could just … repeat everything I say after a loss and it’s going to be the same difference.

“So, I don’t know, we’re all frustrated, I’m frustrated, I’m sure the fans are. It’s almost like we found a way to lose the game (Saturday), and it pains me to say that.

“I was hoping we’d win and have a good feeling in the room after the game,” he continued. “That’s what makes winning so much fun is the atmosphere afterwards, and it’s such a small margin for error out there.

“And that’s the difference now. Instead of celebrating and playing music, we’re all hanging our heads.”

If the margin of error is small in games, it’s now non-existent for the season as a whole.

While the gap between the Senators and the final wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is just five points, schedule difficulty is about to rear its ugly head.

In the Senators’ ideal world, they would have used a pillowy soft collection of games in November and a home-heavy December to build up a cushion in the standings before hitting the road for a series of lengthy, challenging trips (between Jan. 1 and the Olympic break, they’ll play 12 of 17 away).

Instead, they’ve gone 10-11-5 since Nov. 1, dropping point after critical point like they did Saturday. Next up on Monday: the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by back-to-back contests against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins.

Finding a way to beat the plucky Pens, who have rattled off seven straight wins despite what should be a devastating string of injuries to key players, might not turn their season around, but it would at least make for a slightly merrier Christmas.

“That just goes to show you how deep they are and how their third and fourth-line guys can pick up their games too, and it’s a good challenge for us,” Methot said Sunday after practice. “I mean, this is an opportunity for us to go into the break somewhat feeling good about ourselves, if we can pull off an upset (Monday).”

Captain Jason Spezza agreed.

“We’ve played two pretty good games in a row now and got a point out of it, and if we can find a way to win — good, bad, ugly, who cares — just find a way to win the game, I think that’ll go a long way for our spirits and mental approach to things.”

Clarke MacArthur was still feeling positive Sunday about the Senators’ chances to compete in the east, but he made it clear they can’t afford to flush any more opportunities like they had against the Coyotes. They blew two leads in the game: 2-0 and 3-2.

“I mean, I feel like we’re more confident at times when we’re chasing a team than we are with a lead and, you get one or two-goal leads, you’ve got to find a way to … it should be a win,” he said. “You get a two-goal lead in this league, it should be a win.

“Obviously, we’re trying to keep our spirits (up),” said MacArthur, adding a break from the rink this week after a tough month will benefit everyone. “We’re not sitting here thinking we’re a great hockey team right now, we’re working at it, we’re trying to get better. And you look at the standings and, as bad as it’s been, we’re still right there.

“You put one stretch together here and at least you’re in there and you’re trying to hold a position. That’s my motivation and it should be everyone’s motivation.”

The Senators would do well to avoid the macro picture to keep that motivation up, however. The web site sportsclubstats.com already has them as a 10/1 long shot to make the playoffs.

Saturday marked the first day of winter, and unless they manage a winning streak against some of the best teams in the league this week, it’s going to feel like an especially long one.

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