It can be the finest of lines, to be sure, the thing that separates the winners from the losers in a hockey game.
These days, at least, the Ottawa Senators are getting a rather blunt reminder about how little it takes to slide over to the wrong side of it. And how tiny and unforgiving the margin for error is in the National Hockey League.
Simply put, it’s also the difference between the Senators’ torrid 13-1-0 start to this season and the 3-4-1 mini-slump that’s followed. Sure, injuries haven’t helped the cause in the past week, but the Sens know the explanation for their current three-game losing skid runs a bit deeper than that.
|Ray Emery has his eyes on the action in front of him during Senators practice at Scotiabank Place on Monday morning. |
“It’s real close,” centre Jason Spezza
said of that line between wins and losses. “That’s why (the coaches) harp on attention to detail so much. You look at our last two games and we probably could have won both of them, but we didn’t. And because we didn’t, we’ve lost four of five now.
“You’ve got to bury your chances when you get them and you’ve got to get the save when you need it … it’s just a combination of everything. It’s a tight, tight league and everybody’s good.”
Head coach John Paddock pointed toward better neutral zone play as one particular key to reversing the team’s fortunes. But he added it’s a combination of several things that put the brakes on the Senators’ hot start.
“It’s a little bit here and a little bit here … about three or four things are off 10 per cent or 15 or 20 per cent,” he said. “All of a sudden, that results in a cumulative effort that’s on the negative side.”
In other words, the little things can mean a lot.
“Sometimes, the difference is very small,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. “But I think we know as a group that we can be better and we have to be better to win games.”
Added forward Chris Kelly: “We’ve got to get back to playing the way we were at the beginning of the year, and that’s working hard for 60 minutes and doing the right things, shift in and shift out, and not taking shifts off.
“I think that’s what we’ve gotten away from. It’s an extremely fine line.”
The Senators don’t see action again until Wednesday, when they travel to Uniondale, N.Y., to face the Islanders (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). Whether they’ll have Alfredsson in the lineup is still up in the air. The captain sat out Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, and skated on his own before Monday morning’s practice.
He isn’t ready yet to declare himself in against the Isles.
“It’s much better than it was Friday, there’s no question, which is very encouraging,” said Alfredsson. “(The groin) is responding to the treatments I’m getting, so we’ll see how it feels (Tuesday).”
Paddock has yet to decide which goaltender he’ll send out to face the Isles, though he hinted Wednesday’s starter will get the call again Thursday night against the Nashville Predators at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet, Team 1200).
Though the Senators have now allowed four goals or more in three straight games, Paddock said goaltenders Martin Gerber and Ray Emery shouldn’t be saddled with all the blame.
“For the most part, our goaltending has been outstanding all year,” he said. “They’re two very capable, solid (NHL) goaltenders. They’ll play a bit better, and the team will play a bit better, and the results will be different. That’s really it. Certainly, there’s no more onus on them than the rest of the team.”
Said Spezza: “Sometimes you’ve got to pick your goalies up, sometimes you need your goalies to steal games for you and sometimes it’s a combination of everything. We’ve got a good group of guys and probably the best 1-2 tandem in the league, so we’re pretty happy with where we sit.”