It’s hard to cheer for a losing team.
And that’s what the Ottawa Senators are this season – a losing team.
After an emotionally stirring victory against top-seeded St. Louis on Monday in Kanata, it truly seemed like this team had turned a corner. After getting spanked by the LA Kings, Ottawa responded with one of their most complete games of the season.
And then, once again, any momentum or rhythm or positive cadence is all gone to pot after a 5-2 dunk-tank of a loss against the New Jersey Devils (the same team the Sens beat in their home opener by a mark of 5-2).
The RABHA rolled into Jersey and actually played solidly for about the first minute of the first period, and generated some good puck movement and chances. They even got an early power play – but a blown coverage led to a shorthanded goal by Gionta at 2:02 (his first of the season – sound familiar?) and the wind was instantly sucked out of the Sens’ sails.
Before you knew it, the score was 3-0 for the Devils and the Sens looked like a team of lost puppies pawing playfully against a bunch of ravaging wolves.
As a fan, it has been frustrating to watch this team and to see their complete inability to just win two measly games in a row and build any form of momentum. Having said that, I can only imagine how much more amplified that anger and frustration is within the locker room among the actual players.
Not since early November has the RABHA been on any sort of win-streak (which was only three games), and here they are – 36 games into the season, nearing the halfway point, with a 14-16-6 record. A losing record.
What’s even more frustrating than all of the losses, and night after night of emotional rollercoaster riding, is that their losses can never really be pegged to any one particular area.
Yes – their goaltending has been shaky, but defensive breakdowns and clear paths to your own net don’t make it easy. Yes – the D has been questionable all season, but then they’ll play strong (like they did against St Louis), move the puck well and quash your doubts. Yes – their offense and powerplay has struggled, but Ryan, Karlsson, Spezza and Zibanejad will score some beautiful goals and resurrect your hopes. Yes – the refs have definitely blown some calls against opposing teams (including two glaring non-calls last night that both led to goals), but in the end, the players determine the games – not the refs.
Therefore, it’s my assumption that something is not cohesive at the core of this team. Maybe there are conflicting personalities in the locker room. Maybe there’s something more to Marc Methot (probably their best stay-at-home D-man) not playing on a night where he’s healthy and 7 days after he’s had this mysterious flu.
And really – at some point – as much as I love Coach Paulrus, the constant line-juggling needs to stop. Consistency only comes when players are comfortable playing together and can react to and anticipate the moves of their linemates.
At any rate, in five or six games, maybe all of us will need to taper our expectations a little tighter and settle in for a bumpy ride.
EVERYTHING IS LOST?
I don’t think so, but I’m getting close to believing that.
Mathematically, the Sens are still in the hunt and only three points back of the Leafs for the final playoff spot, but after a while, you can’t keep counting on other teams to lose. You need to make your own path and not worry about everyone else.
But on a larger level, the whole psyche of this team needs to be altered. Something has to happen. They need a spark and they need a streak.
Jekyll and Hyde hockey might create some fun flashes, but it doesn’t create a playoff-bound hockey team.
After the game, Coach Paulrus said ‘our compete-level tonight was at zero’. That says something when your own coach is as publicly scathing as that.
Desperately trying to make some headway and make up for some lost ground, the flustered Sens take on Florida tonight at 7:30 EST.