Senators consistently inconsistent

Has there ever been a more maddening Senators group than this 2013-14 edition? This team needs mental therapy, or at least its fans do. It’s as though the pleasing team we see on occasion has an evil, uncontrollable twin.

Ottawa Senators' Jason Spezza (19) put the rebounding puck off Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, bottom, into the net for a goal with Hurricanes' Jay Harrison (44) standing by during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Has there ever been a more maddening group of Senators than this season’s team?

OTTAWA — In the 21 years since the Ottawa Senators returned to the NHL, the hockey club has taken many forms.

Initially hopeless in the expansion years of 1992-96, the Senators became endearing as they reached their first playoff in 1997, developed into a contending team from 1999 to 2007, then a rebuilding team. Last season, defying the negative prelude of the NHL lockout, the Senators charmed and over-reached, whetting appetites for greater days ahead.

With that backdrop, has there ever been a more maddening Senators group than this 2013-14 edition? This team needs mental therapy, or at least its fans do. It’s as though the pleasing team we see on occasion has an evil, uncontrollable twin.

The recent weekend was typical. After beating the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday for a second time this season at Joe Louis Arena, outscoring them in the two games by a combined 10-3, the Senators could have flown to Raleigh on their own wings.

The next day, they plummeted to earth with a 4-1 loss to a 12th-ranked Carolina Hurricanes team that had a goal differential of minus-21 at the start of the game. Now, it’s the Senators who rank 12th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 9-11-4. A year ago after 24 games, despite battling numerous injuries, the Senators were 12-8-4.

“One problem we’ve had, is, after emotional wins, the next game we come out a little flat,” centre Zack Smith said. “We can’t have that because a lot of the games are going to be emotional, especially later in the year, when you get rivalries with teams playing a lot of back to backs.”

Among their other issues, the Senators only seem to get motivated against the best teams. Is it fear of failure that makes them rise to the challenge?

“We can play very good against good teams, but against teams even with us or below us in the standings we don’t seem to have enough respect for them,” head coach Paul MacLean said after the loss in Carolina.

MacLean has shown the patience of the biblical Job following some wanting performances this season. On Sunday, he was frustrated by his club’s letdown and didn’t want to hear about excuses such as a lack of confidence to battle back.

“Confidence is an over-used word,” MacLean said. “They’re all NHL players, they should be confident in themselves. They go through some tough times, yeah. But, during that time, you’re an NHL player. Be an NHL player and play the game. Right now we don’t play long enough and hard enough to consistently win.”

TSN radio host Ian Mendes noted a telling statistic: Against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference, notably Toronto, Montreal, Boston and Detroit, the Senators have a record of 4-0-1 and have outscored those teams 22-11. Against the rest of the league, Ottawa is 5-11-3 while getting outscored 66-46.

Maybe it will help on Wednesday to face a Washington Capitals team ranked second in the Metro Division, although the Verizon Center has historically been tough on Ottawa. Since 2006, the Senators have a record of 2-8-3 in Washington.

The Senators could win big or lose big and neither result would be a surprise.

Ringleaders Jason Spezza, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil and Marc Methot are trying to rally the troops, keep them buoyant.

“You’re not going to be perfect every night, but you have to find a way, when the other team’s carrying the play, to just protect yourself and not have big momentum swings,” Spezza said.

Sunday evening in Raleigh was a case in point. After Spezza scored just over a minute into the game, the Senators took the foot off the gas. Colin Greening was robbed of an open net goal by Cam Ward’s goal stick, and a power play that might have pushed the score to 2-0 generated a single shot on goal.

As the Hurricanes pushed deeper into the Ottawa zone, the three-goal flurry in the second period against Senators goaltender Robin Lehner was almost predictable.

Phillips said the team leaders accentuated the positive heading into the third period, but coming back from a deficit in this league isn’t easy at the best of times. These are not the best of times.

“When you don’t have confidence … you don’t just find it or pull it out of your back pocket,” Phillips said. “It’s mental toughness, to not get down, stay positive even when things aren’t going well.

“Being upset about a play that has happened or being down makes it that much harder on yourself and, in turn, as a team to get things turned around.”

Rebounding in an individual game is one thing. Regarding the standings and playoff positions, crawling out of an early-season hole becomes next to impossible because of loser points.

As an illustration, in their past 10 games, the Senators have five wins to Detroit’s two. However, because Ottawa lost their five games in regulation, they have 10 points in that span. By pushing games to overtime, the Red Wings scooped single points in five of their losses, and so have nine points despite dropping eight of 10 games.

Teams that are in playoff positions at this stage of the season rarely give them up. The Senators are six points behind the wild-card position.

“We’re going to keep coming to the rink and work at getting better,” MacLean says. “Is that the definition of insanity for this year? I have no idea. All I know is the only way you get out of adversity, the only way you fix things, is to work at it.”

wscanlan@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/HockeyScanner

Tags: , , , ,

What do you think? Leave a comment