Playoff spot slipping away unless Senators get hot in Florida

The sun was setting in Sunrise as the Ottawa Senators flew into Florida early Monday evening.

The Senators can only hope the sun isn’t already setting on their season.

SUNRISE, Florida – The sun was setting in Sunrise as the Ottawa Senators flew into Florida early Monday evening.

The Senators can only hope the sun isn’t already setting on their season.

The big picture doesn’t look so pretty.

The Senators were seven points out of a post-season spot Monday. Even if the Senators were to sweep their next three games – here against the Florida Panthers Tuesday, Thursday against old friend Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning and back in Ottawa Saturday versus the Toronto Maple Leafs – they still wouldn’t be in a playoff spot, regardless of what all of their other Eastern Conference rivals do this week.

Or look at it another way. The Maple Leafs, who held the final wild card spot in the East before Monday’s games, are on pace for 95 points. In order for the Senators to reach that total, they would need 71 points from their final 55 games, putting together a torrid end of season stretch where they go 34-18-3, 33-17-5 or 32-14-9.

Something needs to change. ASAP.

“If we keep going at this pace,” said centre Zack Smith, “we’re going to be out of it by Christmas, or even before that.”

On Monday, general manager Bryan Murray and coach Paul MacLean moved around some furniture in the office – Mike Hoffman was recalled from Binghamton of the American Hockey League while Derek Grant and Mark Borowiecki went down, Clarke MacArthur lined up with Jason Spezza and Mika Zibanajed and Colin Greening found himself serving as a fourth line centre at practice – in the hopes the fresh look will serve as a spark for a team that has lost six of its past eight games.

MacLean concedes, however, that there’s no magic solution. He can’t turn it all on by buying The Clapper at the massive mall across the street from the BB & T Center where the Panthers call home.

“I believe in hard work,” he said. “And we need more of that. I’m not sure we play hard enough, long enough, on a consistent basis. We need to flat out work harder. There’s no magic, no potion for that.”

MacLean says “you can be very close, but still be really, really far away and that’s where we are now.”

Indeed, the Senators risk getting dizzy if they look up at the long ladder they need to climb.

They’re fast approaching crossroads time.

It says here that the team’s defence isn’t nearly good enough – Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch were not ready to assume the responsibility of a being a consistent second tandem pair behind Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson – and a bigger fix is needed.

Murray’s hands have been tied trade-wise because of the Senators internal budget, but we heard owner Eugene Melnyk suggest on TSN 1200 last week that he would add money if he was convinced it would make a significant difference.

Melnyk also says he prefers the developmental approach to long-term success, rather than the Band-Aid approach of signing free agents. The Senators current management team has drafted well in recent years. Binghamton is currently tasting success thanks to solid drafting and Curtis Lazar, the club’s top pick at last June’s draft, appears to be a lock for Canada’s world junior team.

But here lies the rub. The Senators are without a first round draft choice next June – gone to the Anaheim Ducks in the Bobby Ryan trade last summer – and if they don’t make the playoffs, that pick becomes even more valuable. It could even, potentially, become a lottery pick.****

If the Senators fall far out of the post-season race, do they contemplate making a blockbuster deal with a playoff-bound squad to recoup that first round pick?

We’re not quite there. Yet.

An optimistic might look ahead at the next six games – after Toronto, the Senators face the Philadelphia Flyers and have a home-and-away series against the Buffalo Sabres – and suggest there’s potential for a hot stretch, allowing the Senators to get back in the legitimate mix for a playoff spot.

The Senators won’t allow themselves to think about all that. They’ve won only three games in a row once. Beyond that, they only have one other two-game winning streak. Captain Jason Spezza says there’s no point in talking about anything except the next game.

“We’re struggling right now,” he said. “We haven’t really looked at the standings and we’re not worried about winning four in a row right now. We’re worried about getting that first one. We’ve been able to win one game, just not two in a row. We have been pretty short sighted with the approach.”

The way Smith sees it, a winning streak can’t start until you win one game.

“You just have to think in your mind that getting on a roll just starts with (Tuesday),” said Smith. “That’s what we need to do.”

It’s not about fun in the sun this week, but it is vital business trip where the Senators must start heating up.

 

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