Playoff spot remains in Senators hands — and heads.

The Ottawa Senators had a day off Tuesday to rest their bodies, but that didn’t stop their brains from working in overdrive, wondering and worrying about having let the easy path to a playoff position slide away.

Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips. (Photo: Chris Mikula/Ottawa Citizen)

The Ottawa Senators had a day off Tuesday to rest their bodies, but that didn’t stop their brains from working in overdrive, wondering and worrying about having let the easy path to a playoff position slide away.

“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t on our minds, that we haven’t been able to close it out,” said defenceman Chris Phillips, referring to Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s frustrating. It’s sitting there for us, but we haven’t been able to really grasp it. In saying that, the last thing we can do is to tighten up and be afraid to lose. We just have to go out and not be thinking about the rest and just go out and play the game.”

That’s so much easier said than done, however.

Saturday evening, the Senators were in position to leapfrog Toronto into sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. In a few short days, though, it has fast developed into fingernail chewing time for Senators fans, deeply concerned that a playoff spot could disappear altogether.

While the Senators were idle Tuesday, they received gifts all over the place, with the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Winnipeg Jets all losing. Washington’s 5-3 victory over Winnipeg was the most significant of those results.

There remain countless combinations of ways the Senators can or can’t finish among the top eight, but if there’s any comfort for the Senators, it’s that they can stickhandle their own way out of the mess they’ve created. They will make the playoffs if they win one of their final three games. Failing that, a Montreal win in regulation over Winnipeg on Thursday would allow the Senators to compete in the second season.

Yet considering the Senators roster is relatively inexperienced, with seven rookies seeing regular ice time, it’s only natural that some nervousness will enter the dressing room.

Phillips, as one of the team’s veteran leaders, is doing his part to send a Carpe Diem message to the dressing room, seizing the day for whatever it’s worth.

“It’s important the next time you come into the rink to enjoy it, to have fun,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fun if it was easy. We’ve made it a little bit harder on ourselves, but you’ve got to enjoy it, enjoy the challenge of getting in (the post-season).”

The Senators will practice in Ottawa Wednesday, then fly to Washington in preparation for Thursday’s game against the Capitals. It will be an intriguing day on numerous fronts.

–It’s likely star defenceman Erik Karlsson will travel with the team, setting up the possibility he could return to the lineup against the Capitals, playing for the first time since having Achilles surgery in February.

–Does coach Paul MacLean opt to play rookie goaltender Robin Lehner instead of Craig Anderson, who has allowed weak goals against both Toronto and Pittsburgh? Lehner’s last game was on April 11, a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on April 11, which halted the Senators’ five game losing streak.

–After spending much of Monday’s game shuffling forwards up and down the lineup in an unsuccessful search for any kind of goal-scoring combination, what will MacLean settle on against Washington? One of the chief goals is to have more players making life difficult by creating screens in front of opposition goaltenders and to be in position for more rebounds.

It would seem logical to at least consider re-uniting left winger Colin Greening (6-2, 217 pounds) centre Zack Smith (6-2, 212 pounds) and right winger Chris Neil (6-1, 215 pounds), who enjoyed some early, early season success together.

The Senators have had 85 shots on goal in the past two games, but they’re not kidding themselves. There haven’t enough quality chances among them.

“We shot 50 shots against Toronto, but even if shoot 100 times and there’s nobody (in front of the goaltender), they are NHL goalies and they are going to stop those,” said Guillaume Latendresse, who is also in danger of losing his spot in the lineup against Washington.

Latendresse acknowledges the Senators are a young team and that is a factor in their current situation.

“We put ourselves in a good position, but for sure the intensity (has increased) and it’s a little bit more (pressure) on everybody’s shoulders,” he said. “When it’s your first or second year, sometimes it can be heavier than with with other guys. It’s a learning process, but we need to make sure a part of learning is being part of the playoffs.”

The way defenceman Marc Methot sees it, however, the second season has already arrived.

“All we can do is focus on these next couple of games,” he said. “They’re do or die for us, really. These games are so important for us right now. Right now, playoff hockey has begun for us.”

 

Tags: , , ,

What do you think? Leave a comment