MacLean building it a block at a time

The Ottawa Senators won four games in a row just once last season, which isn’t much of a surprise considering how bad things got in the 2010-11 NHL season.

NEW YORK — The Ottawa Senators won four games in a row just once last season, which isn’t much of a surprise considering how bad things got in the 2010-11 NHL season.
Saturday, against the New York Rangers, they’ll be shooting for their fifth win a row, something they haven’t done since they won six straight near the end of the 2009-10 season.
That season, the last one in which they made the playoffs, also featured an 11-game winning streak.
After the way the Senators started this season, with just one win in six games, it’s hard to imagine they’d be able to snap off four straight, even if they weren’t exactly playing the league’s elite in the Winnipeg Jets, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers.
But before anyone gets ahead of themselves and starts wondering when playoff tickets go on sale, listen to the coach for a moment.
Paul MacLean works on a small time frame. During games, he goes from one timeout to the next, from one goal to the next, from one period to the next.
His team is a work in progress. One day he expects it will be pretty good, but he’s not about to say that it is today.
“I see this team improving just a little bit every day, just like we talked about at training camp,” he said on Friday. “We’re building a foundation for something down the road when we’re going to be good, and that takes doing a little bit better every day.
“We’ve seen this team get better. We’ve seen it be bad and improve, and show great character and learn what it takes to win and how to win, and those are all very good building blocks to build that foundation we’re talking about.
“So I think with every one of those blocks we put in, it gets a little more stable.
“I don’t think it’s the Great Wall of China yet, but it’s all positive signs.”
Jason Spezza, the team’s most valuable player so far, said the players are feeling a lot better about themselves.
It wasn’t pleasant getting hammered 7-1 by the Colorado Avalanche and 7-2 by the Philadelphia Flyers, who look like they may be two of the better teams in the league this season. But winning a few games does wonders for the ego.
“I think we’re believing in ourselves a little more,” he said. “I think we’re believing in the game plan. You have to win a few games to have the confidence to stick to it and not veer away from what you’re supposed to be doing.”
The Senators are also becoming a nightmare for the region’s collective blood pressure. Of their first 10 games, two have gone to a shootout and two others, including Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Panthers, were settled in the last final seconds. That looks as if it might be the norm this season. There was once a time when the Senators, especially when Dany Heatley was playing with Spezza, were a team that could run-and-gun with the best of them.
But today’s Senators are going to scratch and claw. Spezza says they’ve accepted that.
“We know, maybe more than other years in the past, that we’re a team that’s going to have to win games in 60, 65 minutes,” he said.
“Just grind out as many points as we can. We’re not going to blow teams out and we’re not going to have too many easy nights.
“We have to come into every game prepared to play a long, hard 60-minute game.”
Thinking about this team in the playoffs after only 10 games is obviously premature. And even if it’s tempting, remember that a .500 record, which the team has now, doesn’t get a team into the playoffs.
To make it, a team usually has to be at least five to seven games over .500 — and that’s just to get the last berth.
But even if hardly anyone who watches and follows the NHL has picked them to be in the playoffs, the Senators have always thought they’d have a chance, said captain Daniel Alfredsson, at least conditionally.
“We know the situation we’re in,” he said. “We knew it was going to be tough. But we’ve been saying all along, ‘Just go out there and give it all we have in every game and see what happens.’
“So far we’ve been doing a really good job of paying attention to detail, and we’ve been getting some nice individual efforts.
“It’s nice to be able to come back to reach .500, but we also know that what you did yesterday doesn’t really matter in this league.”

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