NEW YORK -- For as maddeningly inconsistent as they have been this season, the Ottawa Senators have two games before 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend that could go a long way to changing their overall team psyche and perhaps even the course of their season.
At least that's how the Senators are choosing to view their games Tuesday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden and Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre.
Ottawa is 10 points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, but could pass Toronto and move within six points of the Bruins with back-to-back wins before the break. The Senators have won back-to-back games only three times since winning four straight from Oct. 11-18.
"It's an opportunity to finish strong," Senators center Kyle Turris said. "We feel we've been doing good things and moving in the right direction in terms of how we're playing, chances for and against, that sort of thing, but now we have to start taking advantage of our opportunities and scoring, hopefully getting a couple bounces, and start winning games. The end result is what matters."
Turris is right: the Senators have been moving in the right direction in terms of how they've played under coach Dave Cameron as opposed to how they played under former coach Paul MacLean.
In 17 games under Cameron, who coached his first game Dec. 11, the Senators are 10th in the League in 5-on-5 Corsi-for at 52.5 percent; they were 24th in the NHL in 27 games under MacLean (47.7 percent). They're allowing 29.1 shots on goal per game under Cameron after allowing 34.4 per game under MacLean.
"I feel like we've been playing a lot faster and more crisp," Turris said. "As we play with speed we're getting pucks deep, playing with more offensive zone time, limiting what they get in our end. We're definitely moving in the right direction."
They're playing better, but the Senators still haven't budged under Cameron.
Ottawa is allowing approximately the same number of goals per game under Cameron (2.7) as it did under MacLean (2.66). The Senators are 7-7-3 under Cameron; they were 11-11-5 under MacLean. They were four points out of a playoff spot when MacLean was fired on Dec. 8.
Cameron said he worries that frustration will become a detriment, if it hasn't already.
"Yes, that's your fear, right, because frustration is a useless emotion but it's a very normal one; it's a very human one," Cameron said. "But as our team grows that's one of the things we're going to have to learn how to handle and deal with it. So we keep repeating and we keep preaching trust -- trust your teammates, trust the system and it'll work out in the end."
That's part of the reason why the Senators are optimistic going into their final two games before the All-Star break, which commences Thursday and runs through Monday. They do trust the system and feel they've been playing it well. All they need now is a better result.
"It is frustrating when you see the team kind of turning it around, playing better hockey, not being rewarded for it, but that's what helps a young team get stronger, to realize that you have to push every day and that it's not an easy league," Senators defenseman Chris Phillips said. "I think we're slowly realizing that, playing better, and we can't get discouraged by the results. We just have to continue to push."
The Rangers have continued to push in the exact same time period that Cameron has coached the Senators. They started their hot streak on Dec. 8, the day MacLean was fired, and have gone 15-2-0 in the past 17 games. They have a two-game winning streak coming into the game Tuesday.
New York did not have a morning skate Tuesday, but it's expected that Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal and Tanner Glass will miss his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury.
Here are the projected lineups:
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Mark Stone
Bobby Ryan - Mika Zibanejad - Mike Hoffman
Milan Michalek - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Alex Chiasson
Erik Condra - David Legwand - Chris Neil
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Chris Phillips - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Colin Greening, Curtis Lazar, Patrick Wiercioch
Injured: Mark Borowiecki (left leg lacerson), Zack Smith (left wrist)
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller - Dominic Moore - Lee Stempniak
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Matt Hunwick - Kevin Klein
Scratched: John Moore
Injured: Tanner Glass (upper body)
Status report: Neil will return to Ottawa's lineup after missing the past 16 games with a knee injury. … Lazar will be a healthy scratch after playing the past four games since returning from the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he helped Canada win the gold medal. "I've got extra guys, so I have to juggle and make decisions," Cameron said. "It's based on putting who I think gives us the best chance to win here tonight." … John Moore is likely to be scratched for the fourth consecutive game.
Who's hot: Nash scored two goals in the Rangers' 5-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. He is tied for the NHL lead with 28 goals. Stepan has back-to-back two-point games and three two-point games in his past four games played. He has 31 points in 30 games this season. … Legwand has points in five straight games (1-4-5). He will match his career high points streak with a point Tuesday.