|Veteran defenceman Chris Phillips says the Senators need to start racking up the points soon if they're to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Ottawa is currently eight points shy of a post-season position (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Their season is a mere one game shy of reaching its halfway point.
And with each passing day, the Ottawa Senators become more acutely aware of the work that needs to be done to secure an Eastern Conference playoff berth for the 13th time in 14 seasons. With the gap between the 10th-place Senators and the Montreal Canadiens, who currently hold down the eighth and final post-season spot, sitting at eight points, the sense of urgency is building to a crescendo.
With no game action again until Friday — when the Senators face the Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks at the United Center in Chicago (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) — there is also plenty of idle time to contemplate their predicament.
"It's days like today that you look at the standings and realize we've got to start putting some wins together," defenceman Chris Phillips
said of his 16-19-5 team, which has dropped its last three games. "When you’re getting ready for a game or you’re playing a game, it's a non-factor. You’ve got to be focused on what to do shift in and shift out. You’re not worried about results, it’s the process.
"But we’re not kidding anybody. We’ve got to start putting points up to make a move. It gets tougher and tougher (at this point in the season). You see a lot of games going into overtime, teams playing tight, three-point games … we’ve been in that position before. It’s tough to catch teams. You have to be an above-average team to make up ground."
That they've been able to flash that kind of ability at times this season — even if it's just been in spurts — gives the Senators reason to believe there is still enough time to reverse the tide.
"We believe that we can be better," captain Daniel Alfredsson
said following a spirited workout earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "We think we have the potential to be a lot better than we have been and we're working toward it ... We believe in each other and we feel we can get out of this."
Head coach Cory Clouston, meanwhile, continues to preach the positives to his team, even if they might be hard to come by in the wake of Saturday's disheartening 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place.
"(Staying positive) is all we can do," he said. "All you can do is show up, work hard, try to improve your game, try to work on the things you need to improve on and we did that today. And try to focus on our next game (in Chicago).
"Right now, we’re playing well on the road, though. We seem to be a little bit more relaxed on the road. We seem to be a little bit more comfortable on the road right now. It’s going to be tough to win in Chicago but we still have a lot of confidence."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "We're in a position we don't like, but it's a good opportunity for us to show our character and to battle back. We're not quitting by any means. We know where we're at, we've got a lot of guys that care in here and we're going to show it."Around the boards
So how did Nick Foligno
spend a day off Sunday? He drove to Buffalo to watch his younger brother, Marcus, play for Canada against Switzerland in their quarter-final game at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. "It was pretty cool to see his face," said Foligno. "I'm just really happy for his success." While the Senators forward is American-born, he'll be cheering for little brother when Canada and the U.S. face off in a semifinal tonight. "Today, for sure it's Canada," he said. "I'm thrilled for Marcus and this is all about him. I couldn't be more proud of what he's accomplished." ... Goaltender Pascal Leclaire (lower body) skated in full equipment before today's practice and might join his teammates for Tuesday's session. "If not, we're going to look for Wednesday," said Clouston. "The plan is, hopefully, he'll come with us to Chicago to at least back up (during Friday's game)." ... Centre Jason Spezza
won't require surgery on his injury right shoulder, Clouston said, but he's still expected to be out another four to six weeks ... Tickets for all Senators home games in February, March and April go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.