OTTAWA — OK, so you were warned about the “roller coaster” this Senators season was going to be.
You just forgot the sensations of that gut-wrenching, adolescent ride, the serene highs (hello, Minnesota Wild), cruising gently to the peak with its supreme views, tranquil at the crest — then whooosh! Down you plunge, your stomach ripped out of its lining before settling somewhere deep in the back of the throat.
That was roughly the feeling on Thursday as Senators fans left the building, 19,000-plus slightly scarred souls after watching the home team get publicly flogged: exposed and spanked 7-1 by a Colorado Avalanche team that was supposed to be the mirror image, a young, developing group not expected to contend in the Western Conference.
In fact, Senators head coach Paul MacLean allowed on Friday that the Avs played the way he hopes his own team can. Relentless on the forecheck. Driven. Perpetual motion, if not poetry in motion.
So much for fans being patient with the Senators’ rebuilding effort. What happened to everyone being on board? It all sounded so good in theory. And yet, in the final minutes of the season’s fourth game, fans cheered sarcastically when Ottawa managed a shot on goal (there were only 16 all night). For a second straight home game, defencemen Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar heard boos from hometown fans.
That wasn’t a hockey broadcast, it was reality TV.
Hello, lottery pick.
It will soon be time for fans to start paying attention to those preliminary rankings for next summer’s draft-eligible players. You will have to know your Nail Yakupov (Sarnia Sting) from your Mikhail Grigorenko (Quebec Remparts).
This is life with five rookies in the lineup and several more who haven’t played a full NHL season. Nights when seven defencemen aren’t enough (“a lot of times, we had 20 D dressed, we spent so much time in our own end,” MacLean says). Nights when the goaltender is left so helplessly alone he would rip his hair out if he had any.
Tonight, bald starter Craig Anderson, torched by his ex-mates Thursday, yields to bald Alex Auld. Let him stand in there and be the human target for 40-plus shots from Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
Or, who knows? Maybe the Senators will surprise us.
They did on Thursday, not in a pleasant way. Fans strolled into SBP all giddy from the high of beating Dany Heatley on Tuesday, relishing the bully job Chris Neil did on him, picked up their Frank Nighbor card and pin at the door and beheld the new third jerseys Senators players were wearing in the warmup. An hour later, the victories were tiny, moral ones — like the fact Ottawa scored a goal, so at least we didn’t have to equate the “O” on the uniform with a big, fat shutout.
Little things explode into crises with an inexperienced team. The score was just 3-1 in the dying moments of the second period when rookie Stéphane Da Costa missed the formal invitation of a yawning open net. Should have been 3-2 heading into the third. Game on.
Instead, the Senators closed the period with a too-manymen call (can’t blame Cory Clouston anymore), which Colorado converted with a power-play goal early in the third for a 4-1 lead. Game over.
The Avalanche produced five — FIVE — goals on special teams, four on the power play and one short-handed. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to kill penalties (even the Maple Leafs are learning). It takes effort, execution. It takes players being on the same page, while on the same ice surface.
“Fundamentally, we have to be stronger,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Veterans on the team said the club would try to “regroup” and “regain composure” before heading into the Capital graveyard also known as Washington’s Verizon Center, where the Senators have one win in their past 10 trips, dating back to 2006-07.
The Senators will try to move some pucks out of their zone, and chip and chase if they must. Jason Spezza said the approach has to differ with each opponent, but they have to figure out a way to spend some time in the Capitals’ zone or this one has the potential to get ugly — fast.
Seems like only Thursday, the Senators had a chance to improve to .500. Now they’re trying to avoid a 1-4 start and have to beat one of the NHL’s elite clubs to rise to do it.
“If we’re playing in our own end (again),” said centre Jason Spezza, “it’s going to be a long night.”
MacLean is hopeful his team can one day be as difficult an opponent as the Senators are encountering most nights. He insists he’s not trying to play the puck-hog game for which his former Detroit Red Wings team is famous, but having the puck once in a while would be nice.
“I wouldn’t label us like that’s what we’re trying to do, be a puck-possession team,” MacLean says, “but I know you have a better chance of winning if you’re in control of the puck more often than not.”
Contact Wayne Scanlan at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter@HockeyScanner.