Maple Leafs extend Senators’ losing streak to six

The Battle of Ontario turned decidedly blue on Saturday. Blue as in the colour of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blue as in the mood of the Ottawa Senators.

Maple Leafs extend Senators’ losing streak to six

The Battle of Ontario turned decidedly blue on Saturday.

Blue as in the colour of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blue as in the mood of the Ottawa Senators.

That’s what an ugly 5-0 romp on home ice will do.

The Senators losing streak is now at six games and they’re holding on to a playoff spot only because they’ve played more games than their closest pursuers. The Maple Leafs are a single point behind the Senators, but have played three fewer games.

As the Senators are sliding south, the Maple Leafs are suddenly on a roll, with a 4-0-1 record and a red-hot goaltender. James Reimer stopped 49 Senators shots in the victory, posting his second consecutive shutout.

Phil Kessel was the offensive hero, registering a goal and two assists by the midway point of the game. Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Luke Schenn and Cody Franson also beat Senators goaltender Craig Anderson, much to the delight of the Maple Leafs faithful in the crowd at Scotiabank Place.

“There’s urgency, no question,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson in describing the situation. “Panic is not the right word, but we’ve got to find a way and dig deep here and work towards getting better in a lot of areas. We show really good play at times, but it’s not as consistent as we’ve done previously in the season and everybody’s got to come together and find one gutsy effort here to build on.”

The easy answer would be a hard skate Sunday, but after games on consecutive nights – the Senators lost 2-1 in overtime to the New York Islanders Friday – coach Paul MacLean kept to the original plan of a day off on Sunday.

Come Monday, though, they can expect to be put through their paces in preparation for Tuesday’s visit by the defensively-sound St. Louis Blues, featuring former Senators goaltender Brian Elliott. In order to salvage a winning record from the five-game homestand, the Senators now must make a clean sweep of games against St. Louis, the Nashville Predators on Thursday and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

“We’re going to come back on Monday and work to fix it,” said MacLean. “We have to find a way to do a little bit more. Not a whole lot, lot more, but we have to be a bit better on special teams. Our best players need to be our best players, just like every other team in the league. We don’t have to do anything spectacular by any individual or anything, but we have to come and play a good solid NHL team, from start to finish.”

Unlike their weak effort at the start of so many games lately, the Senators actually began the game with some jump. They also had the opening two power plays of the game, but couldn’t get any quality shots through against Reimer.

The game turned on a fortunate break for Kessel. His initial shot was blocked by Matt Carkner, but the rebound bounced right back to him. He then beat Anderson up high to open the scoring.

Then, the Maple Leafs went to work on the power play, moving the puck around crisply before Phaneuf one-timed Kessel’s pass past Anderson to make it 2-0.

While the Senators pressed to put a dent in Reimer early in the second period, the goaltender stood tall. Then Bozak effectively iced the game, beating Anderson on a breakaway following a pretty pass from Kessel. Schenn and Franson made it ugly with third period goals.

“I thought Phil Kessel was an absolute star tonight, we didn’t have an answer for him,” said MacLean. “One second he’s in their end and the next second, he’s in our end shooting the puck at our net.”

For parts of the game, MacLean was like a crazy hockey scientist in trying new line combinations, hoping to find a spark somewhere. Chris Neil featured prominently in the shuffling, playing on almost every line at some point. He also saw plenty of time on a Senators power play which continues to fizzle.

As frustrating as Saturday’s loss was, Jason Spezza says Sunday is “time to take a breath” and be ready to work hard on Monday.

“We’re not getting puck luck, but it’s got to be earned,” he said of his scoring slump. “We need our best guys to score goals and right now we’re not doing that and all those things contribute to the losses. We’re not in a terrible position.

“Hopefully this is the end of it and we’ll come back to work on Monday. We’re not going to quit.”

GAME FILE

Why They Lost: They couldn’t take advantage of their early spark, couldn’t crack the James Reimer wall and (stop if you’ve heard this before) made some glaring defensive errors.

Stud: Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs. Midway through the game, he had a goal and two pretty assists as the Maple Leafs took a commanding 3-0 lead. Kessel then served as a decoy on Luke Schenn’s third period goal.

Dud: Senators power play. The Senators had early energy and drew the first two penalties. Once again, though, their effort with the man advantage wasn’t nearly good enough and the penalty kills served to inspire the Maple Leafs.

The defence delivers: Defencemen Luke Schenn (his first goal in 28 games), Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson found the range for the Maple Leafs. The defensive punch comes a night after defensive defenceman Mark Eaton scored the game winner for the New York Islanders in their 2-1 win over the Senators on Friday.

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