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Brother, can you spare a goal?

Friday, 11.21.2008 / 11:49 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"You make it very tough for yourself if you keep losing too much. I saw Philly last year and they were in a terrible stretch, but they caught on fire and just squeezed in to the playoffs. You put a lot of pressure on yourself if you do it that way."
-- Daniel Alfredsson

The best team in the Eastern Conference is in Ottawa for a game Saturday afternoon and that's not good news for the home team, which needs a win in the worst way.

With roughly 25 percent of their games already played, concerns are mounting for the Ottawa Senators, who hope to snap a six game losing streak (0-4-2) against the New York Rangers Saturday (3 p.m. ET, CBC) at Scotiabank Place.
 
A year ago at this time, the Senators were the NHL's hottest team and pundits were basically handing them the Stanley Cup after their 16-4 start. Today, they are last in the Northeast Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference with 16 points thanks to an unsightly 6-9-4 record after 19 games.

"You make it very tough for yourself if you keep losing too much," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "I saw Philly last year and they were in a terrible stretch, but they caught on fire and just squeezed in to the playoffs. You put a lot of pressure on yourself if you do it that way.

"Last year 25 percent of the way in we were winning the Cup and we barely made the playoffs. You can't give any games away and a couple of games we have."

The Senators believe they have been victim to a carryover effect. Whereas last season they started on a high after advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Anaheim Ducks, this season their start has been rough because they finished last season on a low. After their superb start they fell to seventh in the conference and were swept out of the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Even when we weren't playing well (early last season) we were winning, and then it caught up to us," Mike Fisher, who is out indefinitely with an injury suffered Monday in New York, told NHL.com. "Sometimes when things are going too easy you forget some of the little things and eventually they catch up. That was the case last year. We couldn't muster up anything (in the second half) and this year is the same.
 
"Sometimes going through these stretches will help you down the road, but we know we have to start winning. We're almost a quarter of the way through the season."

While plenty of folks around the NHL predicted the Senators would have some goaltending issues, shockingly their main problem has been scoring even-strength goals. Their goaltending, with Alex Auld and Martin Gerber, has actually been a bright spot.

Meanwhile, the Senators' 44 goals rank 25th in the NHL, but they were tied with the New York Islanders for last in the League with only 22 goals during 5-on-5 play before the Isles played in New Jersey Friday night.

 
Seventeen of Ottawa's goals have come on the power play.

"We haven't scored 5 on 5 as much and that usually has been our bread and butter," Jason Spezza said. "It's just scoring. We just need to score in general. Secondary scoring, whatever you call it. We just need goals. We need to find a way to score."

Spezza hit on one of the Senators main problems, which is a serious lack of secondary scoring. However, it goes even beyond that.

Dany Heatley is delivering with a team-high 11 goals and 19 points, but Alfredsson has only 4 goals and Spezza just 6. Alfredsson at least has 14 assists, which ties him for the team lead with surprising defenseman Filip Kuba.

Spezza has 9 assists and 15 points, but after playing his 19th game last season he had 4 goals and 22 assists for 26 points.

"We're not getting production from the people we need and we've got to step up," Alfredsson said. "You say it doesn't matter who scores, but now when we need it, a few of us have obviously done it more than others in the past. We're going to have to step up and I'm sure the rest will follow."

It would help if the Sens got better at breaking out of their own zone. It now looks as if the losses of Wade Redden to the Rangers (free agency) and Andrei Meszaros to Tampa Bay (trade) have affected the Senators in moving the puck up the ice.

Spezza, though, said those losses are only being brought up now because the Senators have struggled to score. He believes they are a tougher team to play against now with gritty Jason Smith on the back end and feisty Jarkko Ruutu up front.

"Any time you lose something you gain something, but they are different plusses and minuses to our team," Spezza said. "Because we're not scoring it's being magnified that we don't have the same puck movers as we did last year, but when we start playing well we'll be talking about how we're a tougher team to play against. It is what it is."
"In years past we may have blown out teams, but there are so many good teams now that we have to make sure we're outworking teams every night and sticking to it, winning games 2-1 or 3-2 or else it will be, 'What happened to the playoffs?'" -- Mike Fisher
The question is when will they start playing better?

Few folks around the NHL argue against the Senators overall team skill and talent, but if they don't put it together soon they may be sellers rather than buyers come early March.

"It doesn't happen over night," Fisher said. "Some of those habits that crept in last season have carried over. In years past we may have blown out teams, but there are so many good teams now that we have to make sure we're outworking teams every night and sticking to it, winning games 2-1 or 3-2 or else it will be, 'What happened to the playoffs?' "

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets