The 2008-09 season's quarter pole is moving clearly into sight.
All the more reason for the Ottawa Senators to feel an increased sense of urgency as their offence continues to struggle and -- not coincidentally -- their position in the Eastern Conference standings suffers right along with it.
The Sens (6-9-2) have found the back of the net only four times during a four-game losing streak that have dropped them to 14th place overall in the conference. With that thought in mind, Senators general manager Bryan Murray summoned defenceman Brendan Bell from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. The former Ottawa 67's captain is having a strong season offensively for the B-Sens, racking up 15 points in 15 games.
"We’re going to try to get more out of the power play and I’ve been told he’s done a good job down there in that area in particular," Murray said Sunday, a day after the Senators dropped a 3-2 decision to the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.
Bell's promotion means a roster switch on the blue line Monday night, when the Senators face the conference-leading New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Head coach Craig Hartsburg said he'll announce that decision tomorrow.
There will be a couple of changes up front, too. Jarkko Ruutu returns to the lineup after serving a two-game suspension, but rugged winger Chris Neil
is likely out after tweaking a knee during Saturday's game. The Senators are keeping Binghamton callup Ilya Zubov
on hand for the moment.
"You never rule anything out but if (the knee) feels the way it does now, probably not," Neil said when asked about his status for Monday's game. "But we’ll see how it feels later tonight and how it feels tomorrow.
"Our trainers don’t know what’s wrong with it yet, either. It seems like my MCL and ACL are pretty good, so that’s the main thing. We’ll play it be ear and see how it goes."
It's clear, though, that regardless of who's in the lineup, this is a team in dire need of a victory. Captain Daniel Alfredson called a players-only meeting after Saturday's loss but said it's what happens on the ice that will speak the loudest of all.
"We realize the situation here and we need to win games," he said. "We knew we did a lot of good things (Saturday) but we didn’t find a way to win. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re all on the same page about what we need to do and what we need to do better.
"It’s frustrating but we’ve got to keep working. I really believe in this group and I believe we’re capable of better things than we’ve been showing. We’ve just got to keep believing and keep working like we did (Saturday night)."
Hartsburg cancelled practice today and instead scheduled a series of one-on-one meetings with his players to reinforce the urgency of the moment.
"There were certainly some good things in (Saturday's) game and that’s what we’ll talk about with each guy," he said. "The first period, we did have the right energy and mindset, but we get off of it. That’s the type of team we want to be, the way we played in the first, but if you don’t have success right away, you can’t change.
"To me, that’s what’s happened a little bit in this whole season."
Murray maintained today he still has confidence in the roster he's assembled and will resist, for the moment at least, any temptation to shake it up in a major way.
"I look at some of the players on this team and I think they’re good people, I think they’re good players and I think they’re competitive people. But they’re not playing with any confidence right now," he said. "The confidence of the group as a whole is not good enough and it takes some wins to kind of rebuild it.
"You go through stretches like this where you wonder whether you’re ever going to win another game and then you win one and it snowballs the other way. That’s what we’re hoping for and counting on but very definitely, I think we have a good hockey team."Around the boards
Hartsburg hasn't decided yet on his starting goaltender against the Rangers but said "most likely" it'll be Alex Auld
(5-5-1) between the pipes for the 11th time in 12 games ... Forward Ryan Shannon (concussion) has been placed on injured reserve ... The Senators are back at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night to face the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).