Ah, yes, the anxiety of the pre-post season.
ile the Maple Leafs must be content with the process of cementing their building blocks together, their opponent on Tuesday night, the Ottawa Senators, have another set of problems.
They have won only once in six tries.
When the Olympic break rolled into town, the Sens were upwardly mobile thanks to an overachieving cast and great goaltending from Brian Elliott. Thirty-seven-year-old Alexei Kovalev was dominating the competition and the disciplined style imposed by coach Cory Clouston was yielding first-rate results from the club’s front line talent.
But Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek have gone cold and for reasons known only to him, Kovalev has lost his muse. He had a goal and two assists on the last day before the Olympic break, but hasn’t managed a single point in the six games after the break. Not coincidentally, he is also -6. The Sens have one win since hockey returned.
Michalek, who made the trade in which the Sens traded Dany Heatley seem close to even handed does have two goals since the schedule resumed. He is -5 in that time.
Meanwhile, hard-luck goalie Pascal Leclaire, acquired along with a second rounder from Columbus last season for Antoine Vermette hasn’t regained his spot since he was injured by a stray puck while watching a game from the bench. That has left the door open for Elliott who has yet to shine the way he did pre-Olympic days.
The Sens are starting to look south, not north in the standings where the New York Rangers lay eight points in arrears. The Rangers have won four and lost three since the break and possess a momentum that
has eluded the Senators.
It comes down to the goalscoring. Ottawa has scored just five goals after the break and that won’t get it done.
The schedule after the Leafs leave town doesn’t get a whole lot better. Eight of their 13 games are road contests. The Senators have grabbed 50 points at home but just 29 the road.
Put it all together and you have an opponent fighting itself. Than in itself won’t be the sole story line; there is never just one when the Leafs play the Senators.
The Leafs will not make the playoffs again this season but the team they bring to Ottawa isn’t the uneven collection of veterans and greenhorns it has carried in the past. That too is a storyline, the first line of impressive rookie Tyler Bozak
, Nikolai Kulemin
who is playing the best hockey of his very young NHL career and Phil Kessel
Kessel has four goals since the break and has generated 36 shot in eight games. Spezza, by comparison, has 13 shots in six games.
While the Leafs insist they are more than content with the Kessel deal, it would please Leaf fans immensely if they were able to escape the bottom two places in the draft and cut into the odds the Boston Bruins will use the choice acquired in the Kessel deal to draft Taylor Hall or Tyler Sequin.
The Leafs are six points behind 28th-place Carolina with 13 games left on the schedule, but the draft lottery could scuttle the standings.