The losing streak is now at an unlucky seven games, but Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean doesn’t have to look that far back to recall a similar situation.
“I remember the first (six) games of this season, we all go through these things,” MacLean said Wednesday afternoon, desperately hoping the club will find its way out of the ugly losing stretch Thursday against the Nashville Predators. “At the start of the game, somebody has to establish the game and we’ve not been able to establish our game enough.”
The way MacLean sees it, the Senators team of recent games looks an awful lot like the club which opened the season. Awful being the operative word, of course.
In the early going, when the Senators began with a 1-5 record, they were unsure of themselves at the outset of games, often making basic mistakes to fall behind.
“Earlier in the season, we couldn’t play until we were down 2-0,” he said. “When we’re down 2-0, we relax, it’s easier to play.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the coach was frustrated yet again at practice Wednesday, not satisfied with his team’s attention to detail during practice drills.
Like the St. Louis Blues, a defensively stingy squad who shut down the Senators after they established an early 2-0 lead on Tuesday, Nashville is a disciplined club which thrives on opposition mistakes.
While MacLean has yet to decide on his starting goaltender – Craig Anderson has started 18 straight games, but allowed two goals on four shots before being pulled Tuesday – he will make at least one change to the lineup.
Bobby Butler, who has been a healthy scratch for the past three games and has scored only five goals in 41 games this season, will be back on a top line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. The other three lines have all been shuffled as well. There appears to be some desperation to the moves, but for a team that has scored only nine goals during the seven-game losing streak, changes have to be made.
Spezza hasn’t scored in seven games and Michalek is in an 11-game goalless drought.
“We know that we have to get some goals,” said Spezza. “We got involved in one on the power play (Daniel Alfredsson scored the lone goal against St. Louis) and we’ve got to build off that and we both scored a couple of goals in practice today and we’ve got to try and build off that.”
Spezza was only half-joking about that. You get your confidence wherever you can find it.
At this point, Spezza says one of the team’s aims is to get through the opening few minutes without making glaring mistakes to take them out of the game. Immediately following the loss to St.Louis, MacLean accused his team of not being ready to play. Spezza agreed. To a point. He says it’s more of a mental adjustment to be prepared for the type of game that will be played.
“It’s not that we’re in the dressing room, joking around and having a good time,” he said. “We’re focussed, we’re ready, it’s just that we have to shift our focus, maybe to get through to the first time out and play a smart game. We’ve just given up free goals that have cost us.”
The Senators have scored first in only one of their past 11 games, during their 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders last Friday. Here comes Nashville, fifth in the Western Conference with a 32-17-5 record. They have a sparkling mark of 22-2-3 when they score the first goal.
While the Senators had some success earlier in rallying from first period deficits, they can’t afford to put themselves behind any more.
“I believe that if we play a better game early on, it will open up more for us later on,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson. “Halfway through the game, we don’t have to force things as much as we have in the last few games.”
Alfredsson says the players know what their roles are.
“It’s not too complicated, we’ve just got to believe in what we’re doing here,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure you play to your abilities. You don’t try to do too much. Just bring what you can. We’ve got to make sure we keep the attitude and energy up in the room.”