Training camp 2.0: Senators target run at playoff spot

The goal is an NHL playoff spot and Senators players know what has to be done, but they don’t want to get ahead of focusing on the next game.

OTTAWA — Before Monday’s practice, Ottawa Senators players talked with head coach Paul MacLean about where the team needed to be when the regular season ended in seven weeks.

Throughout Monday’s workout, Senators players met in smaller groups with assistant coaches, looking at ways to fine-tune strategies, adding what MacLean later referred to as “new wrinkles” to perhaps give the team an edge.

The 80-minute workout then ended with players doing hard skating starts and stops between the blue lines. In case the Senators lost their legs and lungs during the break in the National Hockey League schedule for the Winter Olympics, the aim is to have them back in time for the race for the wire beginning Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Call it Training Camp 2.0 with only 23 games left to win or lose a playoff berth.

History suggests the Senators will need 93 points to qualify comfortably for the post-season, meaning 30 points over those 23 games and a record along the lines of 13-6-4 or 14-5-2. At the same time, players are doing their best to try to only worry about the next game.

“We’ve touched on it briefly. Usually 93 or 94 points is needed, but you also don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself and worry about it too much,” captain Jason Spezza said. “That’s a long way from now. If you lose two in a row, you don’t want to panic and start thinking about only being able to lose six games or whatever it is, and there are going to be a lot of teams around us, too.

“This may be a year where it’s different and takes less or more (points), but the good thing is we play a lot of head to head matchups against teams we’re going to be battling with.”

MacLean said there should be no surprises.

“We want (players) to understand what the big picture is and the chore that is in front of them, but, at the same time, have them understand that it’s a day by day process,” MacLean said. “You’ve got to focus every day or what you have to do for the next game. It’s always about the next game. The last one you played is irrelevant.”

If there’s a bonus for the Senators, it’s that the gang is almost all here to hear those messages.

Winger Milan Michalek, who represented the Czech Republic at the Olympics, will return for Tuesday’s practice at Gatineau’s Robert Guertin Arena. He worked out in the gym on Monday.

Defenceman Erik Karlsson, whose Swedish team lost to Canada 3-0 in Sunday’s Olympic final, will be allowed a few days off. MacLean said returning to practice Tuesday or Wednesday was “not important”.

“We’ll probably ease him in at about 37 minutes (per game),” MacLean said with a laugh.

“I anticipate him being on the ice at the pre-game skate Thursday. That’s what I anticipate. But, if he comes to the rink (Tuesday) and says he wants to practice, we’re not going to keep him off the ice.”

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