Battle heating up for Senators
Tight Eastern Conference race makes every point a vital one
|Senators goaltender Brian Elliott turned in a solid effort on Saturday against the New York Rangers but came out on the short end of a 2-1 decision. It's the kind of games that are becoming more and more commonplace in a tight Eastern Conference race (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
And any time the Ottawa Senators take a quick glance at the Eastern Conference standings, one thing becomes abundantly clear. This is truly a campaign in which every point is going to matter, most likely right down to the final game of the season.
The gap between the fifth-place New York Rangers and 11th-place Senators (8-6-3) is a mere four points and Ottawa currently holds three games in hand. Turn Saturday's game between the teams from a 2-1 shootout triumph by the Blueshirts into a regulation-time victory for the Senators and suddenly, the margin in the standings is sliced to just two points.
Add to that the fact that 12 of Ottawa's 17 games so far this season have been decided by two goals or less and it's obvious this is shaping up as a season that isn't for the faint of heart – for either the Senators or their fans.
"It’s not easy to win games," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said with an eye toward Tuesday's matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). "You look at the standings and it’s extremely close. Every game is important.
"When you have your chance (to win) and you feel like you’re the better team, you want to win in regulation and not give the other team an extra point or even a chance to get two points."
While the Senators' record in one-goal games is an impressive 5-1-3 so far this season, that doesn't make losses like the one on Saturday any easier to digest. In the wake of that one-goal performance, Senators head coach Cory Clouston had his charges spend the majority of Monday's practice working on power plays and generating offence around the net.
"You need to score more than one goal, usually, to win a hockey game," said Clouston. "We had opportunities (against the Rangers) and we did a lot of good things around the net. We were a lot more of a presence around the net. We drove the net a lot harder than we did the (game) before. We made a conscious effort to get a lot more traffic.
"It’s tough to score goals in the NHL. We’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve got a couple of guys who are squeezing their stick, but when those guys get feeling good about themselves and putting pucks in the net, it’s going to make us a lot more difficult to play against."
"It's never too early," said Fisher. "(The standings) are very important. It's frustrating at times when you're that close and you can't get the wins that you need. But you've got to learn from it and move on.
"We've just got to find ways to win and find ways to get goals when we need them."
In Alfredsson's eyes, finding that little extra to make it happen requires a collective effort.
"We're all in this together," he said. "You don't look (at someone) and say 'this guy made a mistake or this guy should have buried that.' As a group, we've got to find ways to win. We're putting ourselves in good positions, but we're not coming through all the time."
Around the boards
The Senators are optimistic that defenceman Anton Volchenkov (right elbow) might be on the verge of a return to the lineup. "We’re crossing our fingers that he might be ready for the weekend," said Clouston, adding there's a good chance the big Russian blueliner could join the team for practice on Wednesday. That's usually the final step before a return to game action ... Ottawa is 2-0-1 against Northeast Division opposition so far this season ... Fewer than 3,000 tickets remain for Tuesday's matchup with the Leafs, whose two remaining visits to Scotiabank Place this season aren't until March.