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Goal-scoring struggles weighing on Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Forward Nick Foligno is one of only two Senators to produce goals in the team's last five outings. He's got a pair of goals, while Chris Kelly notched three in Sunday's victory in New York (Getty Images).

They've tried shuffling line combinations and, no doubt, they'll considering doing it all over again someday.

The topic has surely been discussed until everyone involved is blue in the face. And yet, despite a variety of approaches, the question remains the same.

Where have all the goals gone for the Ottawa Senators?

Just when Chris Kelly's hat trick Sunday in New York seemed to finally kick start the Ottawa offence — and end a team-record 202:57 scoring drought in the process — there it was again two nights later in Montreal. Just one measly goal in a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens that deepened the hole the Senators are digging for themselves in the Eastern Conference.

But as the old saying goes, tomorrow is another day. And with the New York Rangers (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) and New Jersey Devils (Friday, 7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) visiting Scotiabank Place on consecutive nights, the Senators still remain convinced they'll find a way to get the offence rolling again.

Ottawa has scored only five goals in its last five games — three by Kelly and two off the stick of Nick Foligno. But centre Jason Spezza said the Senators won't help their cause by dwelling on those kind of numbers.

"Nobody’s scored," Spezza admitted earlier today. "We haven’t generated much as a team. We haven’t drawn any penalties — I think we’ve had three power plays the last three or four games. We’ve got to do more to play with the puck, to draw penalties, to gain momentum and get confidence with the puck.

"It all kind of snowballs. We’re capable of scoring goals in here. We just have to rediscover our touch and just look forward. If we keep looking backward, we’re going to beat ourselves up. Playing catchup and looking at the stats every day … it’s going to be a long year (if we do that)."

Indeed, head coach Cory Clouston believes the scoring struggles have reached a point where "it just becomes a big mental block" that now must be overcome.

"Nobody’s scored. We haven’t generated much as a team. We haven’t drawn any penalties — I think we’ve had three power plays the last three or four games. We’ve got to do more to play with the puck, to draw penalties, to gain momentum and get confidence with the puck. It all kind of snowballs. We’re capable of scoring goals in here. We just have to rediscover our touch and just look forward. If we keep looking backward, we’re going to beat ourselves up. Playing catchup and looking at the stats every day … it’s going to be a long year (if we do that)." - Jason Spezza
"We’ve put ourselves in this huge hole and it (gets) magnified every time we don’t score a goal," said Clouston. "It’s when we don’t score those goals early that it seems to magnify. It seems to snowball and it seems to become a big issue because we’re not scoring. One mistake shouldn’t cost you a game. If you get those opportunities early in the game, you (need to) make good on them  … it changes the whole complexion of the game."

While the Senators have been getting solid goaltending from Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott for the most part, the dearth of offence has been their undoing on many nights lately. Now, at 12-15-2, Ottawa finds itself sitting in ninth place in the East, seven points out of a playoff position. And other teams below them in the standings are charging hard to move up.

Needless to say, there's a growing sense of urgency to turn the tide. Not that there is any shortage of resolve to make it happen sooner rather than later.

"The longer this goes and you fall further behind, the tougher it’s going to be," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "But as a pro athlete, you never give up. You just keep going until mathematically there is no chance. I don’t think we’re going to put a date (on it) or anything. We’re going to keep working and hopefully, we can get on a winning streak before it’s too long."

Clouston suggested the Senators' current predicament has made the margin for error perhaps thinner than ever. All of which can ratchet up the pressure with the game in the line in the late stages.

"You get that first couple of goals or first goal early, it gives you confidence and it gives you energy," he said. "It’s not ‘here we go again.’ And it’s easier said than done. If I was in that situation, where I’ve missed four or five really good chances and it started to snowball … we still have to stick with it.

"We’ve got to find a way to persevere. We have to make sure we get those opportunities and make good on them early. If you don’t, you’re behind the eight-ball, where one mistake late in the game can cost you."

Around the boards

Wednesday marked a rarity for Clouston, who had a full roster of players at his disposal for the practice session at Scotiabank Place. "That’s only the second time we’ve had that all year," he said. "You’re able to really work on things. The intensity of the practice was much higher and that’s a positive sign." ... Alfredsson, Spezza and defenceman Sergei Gonchar are on the ballot for the 2011 NHL All-Star Game. Click here to vote for your Senators ... The games against the Rangers and Devils mark a run of three straight home games, with the Atlanta Thrashers slated to visit Scotiabank Place on Monday.

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