Senators must navigate narrower road to the net
Scoring opportunities shrinking as NHL season moves closer to end, playoffs loom
|Kyle Turris and the Senators are feeling the pinch of playoff-type hockey in recent games, as the goals come at a higher premium (Getty Images).
It's an annual rite of spring, this tightening of defensive play in the National Hockey League. And, as the Ottawa Senators are being reminded each night these days, it's only going to get stingier with the Stanley Cup playoffs right around the corner.
Just ask Senators centre Kyle Turris, who thought he had a clear line to an open half of the net on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place, only to be foiled by the veritable wall of New Jersey Devils defenders that suddenly blocked his path.
"There were four guys within about five feet of the crease and I think I hit a stick and it bounced out," Turris said of the gaping space that appeared to be available above a sprawling Johan Hedberg. "It seems like everybody is trying to collapse and limit the opportunities there. We've got to find ways through it."
Further endorsement of that line of thinking was offered by forward Nick Foligno, who agreed the path to the net continues to get more difficult to navigate as the post-season approaches.
"(Goals) are probably going to be a little bit dirtier and a little bit harder to get," Foligno suggested in the moments following Tuesday's 1-0 setback at the hands of the Devils. "We understand that and we're working. We've probably got to get to those dirty areas a little more and try to stay at the net as much as possible, and make sure we get more shots at the net — sometimes, we pass up good opportunities to shoot.
"It's something that's going to be real important coming down the stretch here."
And down the stretch the Senators are indeed coming, and in a hurry to boot. Only eight games remain in their 2011-12 regular schedule, starting with a visit to Montreal's Bell Centre on Friday night to face off against the Canadiens (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Then the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins, with a 12-0-1 record in their last 13 outings, arrive at Scotiabank Place on Saturday evening (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
The Senators, meanwhile, are 1-2-2 in their last five games and have produced just five goals in that span, one of them an overtime winner last Friday against the Habs. Ottawa clearly missed the presence of team scoring leader Jason Spezza — sidelined by illness — against the Devils, but head coach Paul MacLean knows he still has a potent attack to lean on each night. And he expects to see it crank back up offensively in the games to come.
"It's a cyclical type of thing," MacLean said of the Senators' current offensive woes. "We've scored 221 goals (this season), so it's reasonable to expect we'll score goals again. That's the belief we have and the confidence that we have, that we're going to score goals again.
"We just have to get back to doing the things we did in the past to generate them, which is shooting the puck, getting to the net and being determined for second and third opportunities at the net."
Around the boards
Spezza didn't practise with the team today, but MacLean is optimistic he'll have the team's No. 1 centre in the lineup against the Canadiens on Friday. "I'm optimistic he's going to practise tomorrow, but we'll see what tomorrow brings," he said ... The Senators While goaltender Craig Anderson continues to take in full practice sessions with his teammates, MacLean suggested it isn't likely he'll be good to go as early as Friday. "When he comes and says he's ready to play, we'll address it then," said MacLean. "I think he's only had three practices and he's missed four weeks, so we'll see where it goes." ... Forward Cole Schneider, signed to an amateur tryout agreement on Tuesday, is expected to make his pro debut with the Binghamton Senators tonight, when they face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. The Senators inked Schneider, a former University of Connecticut standout, to a two-year contract last week as a college free agent.