With their team idle since Monday, fans of the Ottawa Senators have been frantically channel surfing, identifying playoff threats.
Are their hockey heroes also wired into games played by the playoff-minded Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres? Not so much. Not that they’ll admit to, anyway.
Most of the Senators who spoke on Friday implied that they’re aware of what is happening around them, but feel confident enough in their own seventh-place position that they won’t have to rely on other teams for help. Not yet, anyway. A split on the road this weekend would keep them in good shape.
“You check the standings every day, but I’m not watching every game,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, while bags were getting packed in the dressing room for weekend matinee matches in Philadelphia and Long Island.
“Usually I watch parts (of games), between the kids going to bed … a little bit here and there,” Alfredsson said. “But I think our mindset is just we have to look after our own business. We’re not hoping for anybody to lose games or anything; we hope we can take care of ourselves. Play five more games and see where we end up.”
I asked rookie head coach Paul MacLean if he finds himself rooting for outcomes on TV. (For example: how painful was Boston’s shootout loss to the Capitals on Thursday — a point to the Bruins, ahead of Ottawa in the Northeast Division, and two to Washington, trying to catch the Senators).
“I tend to not watch all of a game, I watch parts of two or three games just for interest’s sake,” MacLean said. “But at the same time, I don’t look at the standings every day, regularly, for myself. You just know where you are.”
Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips admits it’s hard not to get caught up in the volatility of the playoff races.
“The biggest thing is, every night it’s changing,” Phillips said. “Just when you think maybe you’ve made some separation and gained some ground, just as quickly it closes up again and forces you to keep winning. Every time — especially with the new format now, the three-point games — it seems everybody is getting points. It’s what’s making it exciting right now. There are good races everywhere.”
If it was a long week without playing, how much longer would it have been if the Senators hadn’t defeated Pittsburgh and the Winnipeg Jets Saturday and Monday to create a bit of breathing room?
“It would definitely be a lot harder to see teams jumping ahead of you while you’re sitting there and you can’t do anything about it,” Phillips said.
Finally, Ottawa can do something by waking up early on Saturday and getting game faces on for a 1 p.m. start. Instead of a pasta pre-game, pancakes are on the menu.
Centre Jason Spezza says he is checking in on scores, but not sitting and watching entire games. On Thursday, he was monitoring separate tilts involving the New Jersey Devils (versus Tampa Bay) and Capitals-Bruins.
“This time of year, you pay attention a little more than you would midseason, but for us, we feel that with the position we’re in, we just have to feel we’re good and ready to go,” Spezza said, espousing the team theme of the day. “Play our games and win our games. Then it will take care of itself.”
What has Spezza picked up on from what he has watched on TV?
“It’s close. It’s gonna be close right down to the end,” Spezza said. “That’s what they wanted when they came up with the three-point games.
“Everybody’s alive — the cluster of teams in the West and the three of us in the East. There’s no real time to let your guard down right now.”
That is especially true when facing teams like the Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes, teams out of playoff contention but eager to play spoiler against Ottawa, on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively. Spezza says the Senators know how it feels to be that loose, “dangerous” team because it was Ottawa’s role last year at this time.
“You play with confidence,” Spezza said. “The games don’t mean quite as much, but you stay just as motivated. You’ve got guys playing for jobs, guys looking to stay in the league.
“A lot of times when your team is out of it, you expect a lot of changes. Guys are trying to put a good foot forward so they’re not one of the changes.
“We know better than most not to take teams like that for granted.”
No other Senators player has as much interest in the Sabres’ doings as Nick Foligno, whose younger brother, Marcus, is playing a role in Buffalo’s late-season push. In a perfect Foligno world, the siblings will both be involved in the playoffs.
“I haven’t watched games, but I’m definitely looking at the standings to see what’s going on,” Foligno said. “I can’t get over how tight everything is. It’s crazy.”
It is also, as Alfredsson said, “the time of year you want to play important games.”