After Friday’s 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, Chris Neil addressed a quiet Ottawa Senators dressing room.
“We were embarrassed,” Neil said after a Sunday morning practice at the Bell Sensplex. “We come out and have a great first period, things are going good, then we come out and have a second and third period like that — it’s embarrassing.
“Something had to be said.”
And so he said it. His message was that the Senators had to have some pride in themselves, and he pointed to Boston centre Patrice Bergeron as an illustration.
“You look at a team like the Boston Bruins, and Patrice Bergeron, one of the most underrated players in the game, but one of the best — he keeps it simple and sticks to the systems, game-in and game-out, and that’s why they’re one of the elite teams in the conference and in the NHL.
“So if he can do it, and he’s one of the best players in the game, there’s no reason why any of us can’t do it. He does it right, shift-in and shift-in, and that’s what we need.”
The inspirational talk worked, just barely, as the Senators got a late goal from Bobby Ryan to salvage the rematch with a 4-3 victory on Saturday night.
The Senators squandered 1-0 and 3-1 leads and looked as if they were headed to overtime before Ryan scored at 15:25 of the third.
Patrick Wiercioch, Cory Conacher, and Zack Smith also scored for the Senators.
For the team’s pysche, the victory was critical. A second loss after Friday’s rout could have sent the season sideways.
But it meant that, in the last week, the Senators had taken four of six points available in three games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, the Eastern Conference’s two top teams.
“When you go down there and give away two points in the fashion that we did, if we had come home and not responded — whether or not we won or lost the game — if we had not responded emotionally and aggressively, it would have said a lot about us as a character team,” said Ryan.
“So I think we showed the other side of it. We came out and we almost wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
And so, as the Senators’ second half officially begins with Monday’s game against the Washington Capitals, the Senators look to put the first half behind them. They’re still in the playoff picture, only four points out of the last wild card spot now held by the Toronto Maple Leafs, which is surely a statement on the Eastern Conference.
But the bad news is that this is an eight-10 team race for the final playoff spots. It’s not like the Senators have a clear field.
So, in a sense, they’re already starting to run out of games.
“You get to the end of the first half and you say, ‘OK, let’s wash that first half,’ and that’s what we have to think about, washing most of that first half and finding a way to claw our way back and get ourselves in position to compete (for a playoff spot),” said Ryan.
“We can’t afford to give games away right now.
“It stinks to say that in January you have to start scoreboard watching and keep an eye on what other teams are doing, but that’s essentially the position we’re in right now.
“But I firmly believe that if we take care of the points ourselves, take care of home ice better than we have in the first half, we can still make a push for it.”
Coach Paul MacLean still believes the team is going to like where it sits after 82 games. If he had a switch, he would have clicked it a long time ago. But that’s not the way it works in hockey, he said.
“Chemistry in hockey teams is a funny business,” he explained. “It doesn’t take much to get it off kilter. I’ve said lots of times, in this league you can be really close but at the same time you can be really far away.
“I believe that we’re a little bit closer than we were earlier, not quite as far away.
“But if we don’t keep working at it, working at it, and working at it, we’re not going to get to where we want to be.”
That was also the dose of reality offered by Clarke MacArthur. Saturday’s win might have been emotional, and it might have been satisfying, but it’s not as if the team won the Stanley Cup. It was only two points in an otherwise wildly inconsistent season.
“We had a good game last game, but that’s all we did,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to prove here before we can even start talking about feeling good.
“It was a great job to stick with it and get the win, but that’s all it was.
“The whole year has been one win, one loss. It’s been the longest 40 games I’ve ever been part of.
“You never get three or four games where you get confident, where you get a little swagger in your game. We’ve got to find a way to do that.”