Who are the Ottawa Senators?
Are they the team that lost 3-1 to the Edmoton Oilers last Saturday?
Or are they the team that ran over the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 on Wednesday night?
Just nine games into the season, it’s likely to take some time before there’s a clear answer.
But everyone is hoping, obviously, that they are a lot closer to the team that beat the Red Wings than to the one that lost to the Oilers. We’ll see Friday night when they host the Anaheim Ducks.
“I don’t want to say we’re in an identity crisis or anything like that, but there’s a feeling-out process and we’re trying to figure out where we are,” said forward Bobby Ryan. “Somewhere between those two teams, I’d like to say. But just a team that needs to be able to play 60 minutes consecutively, and we haven’t done that a whole lot. We’ve only done that in one, maybe two games.”
Ideally, coach Paul MacLean would like his team to play as it did against Detroit every day.
It was the team’s most complete game in an up-and-down start to this season, which started with a win in Buffalo and was followed by four losses (one in a shootout).
The low point was a 4-1 loss on Oct. 13 to the Ducks. The night before, in San Jose, the Senators lost 3-2 to the Sharks.
In retrospect, though, it might have been the jolt the team needed.
“We felt we were a team that could play fast and play 200 feet – and they were way better at it than we were,” said MacLean.
“And that, I think, was an eye opener for us, that if we were to going to get to the point where we were considered one of those teams, we better get up and get running, and start doing things the way you have to do them.
“I think the eye opener was that there are other teams out there that are quicker and faster than we are, so we have to make sure we’re working at it if that’s what we want to be.”
So Wednesday’s game was a relief.
“I think it was our best complete 60-minute game,” said Ryan. “We’ve been better in spurts, more aggressive in spurts in other games, but that’s been the best game we’ve put together.”
For MacLean, it was a good example of how he wants the team to play.
“The game was 50-50 for a lot of the first period . . . but the longer the game went, the better we got, and in more control of the game,” he said.
Ultimately, he’d like the pace of play to be even faster and more relentless.
However, it is a challenge to play like that, not so much physically, but mentally, because circumstances vary from game to game. The result you expect from playing hard is not always guaranteed.
“The opposition doesn’t always behave the way you want them to,” said MacLean. “You have to execute and do things right all the time, and be willing to accept 50-50 shifts where you’re not always dominating, like don’t try to force things and make something out of nothing.
“Sometimes being able to maintain the speed and pace of the game is just accepting that it’s going to be 50-50.
While the games against San Jose and Anaheim were steps backward, the game against Edmonton was a step in the right direction, said captain Jason Spezza. The Senators did a lot of things right. They just didn’t score more goals than the others.
It was one of those games where the opposition doesn’t behave the way you want them to behave.
After Wednesday’s win in Detroit, the Senators are hoping they’re on the path to more consistency.
“I think that it shows we’re able to play with the elite teams in the East, and that’s important, but we have to build off it,” said Spezza. “Anybody can win one game. But whether you win or lose, you have to string together some good hockey for a long period of time.