Otttawa Senators coach Paul MacLean laughed Friday morning when asked if there was a method to his madness in flip-flopping his forward lines and defence pairings in advance of Friday night’s game against the New York Islanders.
“It’s a search for something that’s going to work, a solution to how the team plays,” said MacLean.
As was the case at practice Thursday, the Senators morning skate featured a line of Chris Neil, Jason Spezza and Cory Conacher, with Zack Smith centering a more offensive-oriented line with Milan Michalek and Mika Zibanejad on his wings.
The defence pairings included an Erik Karlsson-Chris Phillips combination, with Karlsson’s normal partner Marc Methot moving alongside Patrick Wiercioch.
Robin Lehner is in goal, replacing Craig Anderson, who took the loss in Wednesday’s 6-5 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks, which extended the Senators losing streak to six games.
The Senators (4-6-2) have struggled with execution and consistency issues all season long, resulting in way too many turnovers and golden scoring chances for the opposition. The Islanders (4-5-3) are also struggling with consistency, having lost their past two games and posting a 1-3-1 mark in their last five games.
Karlsson says the Senators have no choice but to look forward, hoping the situation improves.
“We’ve got to stay positive,” he said. “We’re here every day and if we’re not having fun, things will turn south even faster.”
While Karlsson and Phillips have played sparingly together – a few games back in Karlsson’s rookie season – the Senators star defenceman believes the pairing can have success.
“I don’t think it’s going to change my game or his game,” he said. “I like playing with (Phillips). He has been around a long time and he knows what to do. He will battle hard for you and be there for you when you screw up.”
Friday’s game will provide Senators fans with their first chance to see Thomas Vanek in his new Islanders colours. Vanek, the long-time Sabres sniper, was traded to the Islanders for Matt Moulson last Sunday.