Senators maintain focus

As professional athletes, NHL players pride themselves on having an emotional equilibrium, avoiding the peaks and valleys of victories and defeats.

Senators maintain focus
Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky gets in position as Bobby Ryan (L) looks for the puck in the 1st period as the Ottawa Senators take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in NHL action at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, on November 17, 2013. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

COLUMBUS — As professional athletes, NHL players pride themselves on having an emotional equilibrium, avoiding the peaks and valleys of victories and defeats.

That, says Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean, is the difference between them and the amateurs.

“I think if you had a team of peewees, it might be hard to (control your emotions),” he said Tuesday after practice at Canadian Tire Centre. “But if you have a professional hockey team … we need to stay on an even keel and keep our game at as high a level as we can and not be up and down.

“I think that’s what separates us from amateur hockey or the (AHL) — is that the NHL is professional and we don’t have those big swings and that emotional up-and-down with the game that you might see at lesser levels.”

That can be easier said than done, though.

The Senators are in the middle of a fight that could, in the next 10 days, tell the story of their season.

Counting Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jackets, the Senators have seven games left before the Olympic break, five of them on the road.

They’ll go into Tuesday’s game with 54 points, three out of the wild card spot.

Win, and they’re right back into the race. Lose, and they drop further away from their goal of holding a playoff berth — or close to holding one — before the Olympic break.

So whether they like it or not, this is a time of wild emotional swings.

“The one good thing about where we are right now is that it makes it easy to get up for every game,” said Bobby Ryan.

“But yeah — when you lose a game and you’re in 11th, and when you win a game and you’re in eighth, jigsawing in and out of the puzzle for the final slot, at times it can feel really deflating.

“It’s a personal thing with each guy, and I know some guys struggle with it more than others.

“But I think if you do what I do, and what a lot of other guys do, just observe that three-hour rule and move on, it’s important, especially when you go into the run we’re going to be going into here. You really have to put it behind you and get ready to go right away.”

Jason Spezza said the Senators will be able to say the same thing about each of their three games this week — Tuesday against Columbus, Thursday at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Saturday in Toronto against the Toronto Maple Leafs: it’s the biggest game of the year.

They’ve already just used up their margin of error. Now they need to win (preferably in 60 minutes).

But that makes it all the more important to keep their emotions in check.

“Obviously if you lose a couple in a row, you feel yourself getting caught from behind a bit,” said Spezza. “But you try to approach it by not looking at it every day. If you win two in a row, and pull ahead of someone, you try not to get too excited.

“And if you lose a couple in row, you just have to make sure you’re doing the right things to get back on the winning track. But it can be difficult at times.

“It’s a team-wide maturity thing. If we can treat it that way, I think we’ll bounce back better and avoid losing too many in a row.”

MacLean said he doesn’t pay too much attention to the standings.

He has a general sense of where the team is, and, of course, he can feel it moving up and down with wins and loses.

But as a former player who has been involved in similar races, he said there’s only one way to approach it.

“I think it’s exciting,” he said. “You should be excited about being in the race. It shouldn’t be difficult at all. You should be looking forward to coming to the rink every day and seeing what you can do to get better.”

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