NEWARK, N.J. -- The Ottawa Senators held a closed-door meeting Wednesday night to try to figure out how to get their season turned around.
The Senators shut the dressing room doors for nearly 10 minutes following a 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center for a gathering that included general manager Bryan Murray, coach Paul MacLean, his staff and the players.
"It was for the most part a message from the top of expectations from them and what we should be expecting of each other," Senators alternate captain Chris Phillips said. "It was a good message."
The Senators entered the season with high expectations after making the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite injuries to stars such as defenseman Erik Karlsson, center Jason Spezza and goalie Craig Anderson. However, they are sixth in the Atlantic Division with 34 points and have not been able to string together back-to-back wins since they won three in a row from Nov. 5-9.
Ottawa was coming off of one of its strongest performances of the season in a 3-2 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues on Monday, but did not have any of the same energy, jump or compete level against the Devils.
The Senators gave up a shorthanded goal to Stephen Gionta 2:02 into the game and were behind 3-0 when Jaromir Jagr scored a power-play goal 2:08 into the second period. They got it to 3-1, but Damien Brunner scored with 27.2 seconds left in the second period to extend New Jersey's lead back to three.
Milan Michalek scored a power-play goal for Ottawa 8:35 into the third, but the momentum shifted 45 seconds later when Devils rookie Eric Gelinas made it 5-2.
"Frustration is a useless emotion, I think we need a little bit of something called anger because we shouldn't be very impressed with the way we played the game," MacLean said.
MacLean offered his opinion on what he perceived as non-calls that led to two New Jersey goals, but he didn't blame the officials for Ottawa's problems that cropped up Wednesday because they have been regularly plaguing the Senators all season.
"Our competition level has been average at best from the start of the season," MacLean said. "We pick it up for some big games, but it goes right back to average. I thought our competition level was zero [Wednesday night]. I didn't think it was very good at all. We're not blaming the referees on this one, this is all on us and we have to find a way to get better."
He said the problems have to do with a lack of focus, leadership and preparation.
"That's just a lack of us wanting to play in the National Hockey League and be a team that is willing to do what it takes to be elite," he said. "We're a long, long way from being an elite team in the League."
MacLean went on to say that the Senators are "running out of games to be able to say you're going to get something and have some kind of a season other than a race for the first overall pick. Right now we're better in that race than we are to get to the playoffs and that's not acceptable."
Ottawa, though, currently does not have a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. It was sent to the Anaheim Ducks in the trade that brought Bobby Ryan to Ottawa.
"If we don't make it to the race in the playoffs that's one thing, but if we don't even try that's totally, totally unacceptable and has to stop," MacLean said.
Spezza said Ottawa's problem this season has been its inability to follow a win with a strong performance.
The Senators couldn't beat the last-place Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 10 after beating the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout the night before. They beat the Sabres in the second half of that home-and-home, but came back with a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in their next game.
Earlier this season the Senators beat the Devils, but then lost to the Edmonton Oilers. They beat the Panthers on Nov. 9 for their third straight win, but then lost 5-0 to the Flyers, who were 5-10-1 at the time. Ottawa followed that up with an impressive 4-2 against the Boston Bruins, but lost 4-1 at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets two nights later.
"I'm not here to make excuses. We just haven't been able to follow it up," Spezza said. "I've got no excuse for you for why we can't do it. I don't think we play together enough. I don't think we help each other out enough with supporting the puck. I think at times we're a tad slow on the forecheck, allowing teams to break out too easily. I think at times we don't move the puck quick enough. We don't support our goalies enough.
"Some nights we do it great and we look like a heck of a team. Unfortunately for a majority of the nights, we haven't done it well enough."
Ottawa has at least been good enough to stay in the race in the Atlantic, but part of that could be attributed to the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings are having their own issues with injuries and inconsistent play.
"The teams above us aren't going to lose forever," Spezza said. "They're going to turn things around too. We had a chance to make up a little bit of traction in the standings and we didn't. We're hurting ourselves by not stringing together some games. There's no doubt about that."
The worst part is they have talked about this all season and still haven't been able to fix it. Maybe a closed-door meeting will do the trick.
"Go through our lineup, we have a tough team, we have big guys," goalie Robin Lehner said. "We got lots of speed and we're not using any of it some nights or most nights. I don't know what to tell you. If feels like nonchalant. That's the feeling I'm getting."