Scanlan: Senators will have no excuses if they miss the playoffs

If the Senators need a little slogan for the stretch run, this one comes to mind: No Excuses.

Scanlan: Senators will have no excuses if they miss the playoffs
Jason Spezza (L) chats with Erik Karlsson while he adjusts his skate as the Ottawa Senators practice at Canadian Tire Centre. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington/ Ottawa Citizen)

If the Senators need a little slogan for the stretch run, this one comes to mind: No Excuses.

With 23 games remaining, Ottawa is healthy, rested, and on the cusp of a playoff position.

No Excuses.

Thursday’s opponent, Detroit, is missing forward Henrik Zetterberg, among their banged up, weary Olympians. Oh, and the Wings played Wednesday night in Montreal.

No Excuses.

After next week’s western swing, 11 of the Senators’ final 18 games will be on home ice.

No Excuses.

Finally, the Senators’ mini-camp comes to an end Thursday, and with the division-rival Red Wings in town, sitting ahead of Ottawa in the standings there is — you guessed it — no excuse not to be up for this one.

“We have an exciting game to play against Detroit and then we go to Vancouver to play the outdoor game,” said defenceman Erik Karlsson, who didn’t lack energy in his first practice since returning home from the Olympic tournament in Sochi, Russia.

“We have a lot of things to look forward to,” Karlsson said. “That’s why you play 82 games, is to get into the playoffs and have a chance. It feels like everybody’s on the same page, we’re going to get there some way.”

Captain Jason Spezza said the potential advantage of having only two Olympians — Karlsson and Milan Michalek — won’t be apparent until the Senators play some games.

“I think we’re ready,” Spezza said. “We’ve practised hard. I think with the numbers we’ve had, it’s allowed us to be competitive in practice. I think we feel as good as we could feel coming off a two-and-a-half week break.

“You never know how you feel until the game starts. I’d say we feel pretty good but we’ll see how it goes (Thursday).”

The thinking is that the Senators can only afford to lose about seven games in regulation if they’re going to reach the 93 or 94 point-total that is expected to be the playoff cutoff. As Spezza says, it could take more, and possibly, less.

“You set your goals high, knowing you can only lose six or seven games, but you also don’t want to over-think that,” Spezza says. “There’s a chance you might lose two in a row or three in a row and you don’t want it to be the end of your season or feel like it’s the end of your season.

“If we look at our last month, month-and-a-half, and play that type of hockey, then we get in. So, it’s just a matter of playing how we’ve been playing”

That is, the way they played in an uplifting shootout win over the Blues in St. Louis Feb. 4, not so much how they were in a 7-2 blowout in Boston Feb. 8.

Robin Lehner was the goalie of record against the Blues, and he will start versus Detroit, while Craig Anderson remains in Florida for the birth of his second child.

Lehner has fire in his eye every time he’s called upon, but is especially motivated to be part of an energized first week of action, with stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg after the Detroit game.

The Senators’ playoff chances will get a boost if they can get out of the gate smartly after the break.

“The first five games are really important,” Lehner said. “It’s hard when you come to the end of your season and every game is live-or-die moments, so we’ve got to set ourselves up here (with a cushion) and try to do as good as possible.”

Players seem to agree there are no excuses.

“We’ve gone over everything, there’s no reason not to be ready,” said winger Clarke MacArthur. “You did six months of work — to take 10 days off and then practice and get back to work, it’s going to take a period or two, but we’ll get right back into things.”

Have the playoffs begun already, given the tight playoff races?

Winger Bobby Ryan thinks so.

“We can’t afford to lose one, two and then three in a row,” Ryan says. ” We’re going to have to put streaks together the other way and that starts (Thursday).”

It starts with No Excuses.

LEHNER SHAVES HEAD

Fans who remember the pre-Olympic Lehner with wild flowing hair will be shocked (or not) by his new look, a head so closely cropped it looks as though he were run over by a lawn mower.

“I shave it to the bone every year, and then I let it grow out,” Lehner says. “It got in my eyes too much and my mask. I’m a bit extreme. Either I go real long or real short, that’s what I do with everything in my life. Either I do it full out or I don’t do it at all.”

wscanlan@ottawacitizen.com
Twitter.com/HockeyScanner

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