Randy Robitaille didn’t take long to pick up on the vibe: The very clear feeling that just making the playoffs doesn’t cut it for the Ottawa Senators anymore.
Not in the wake of a post-season run that saw the Sens finish three wins shy of laying claim to hockey’s holy grail. It left the players on the team thirsting for more and Robitaille surrounded by a mentality he’d never experienced in eight previous stops in the National Hockey League.
“I was a little bit nervous at first,” the 32-year-old veteran centre said about signing on with the Senators as a free agent on Oct. 16. “I didn’t want to be the guy to come in and screw things up. They were 6-1 when I came in.
“I’ve been on a few teams and this is not just the best team I’ve been on but, as far the organization goes, they really know how to put a winning organization together.”
The Stanley Cup is front and centre in the Senators organization from top to bottom. And Robitaille said that’s a big difference he’s noticed since joining the team.
“Every team you play for, your expectations are high,” said Robitaille. “But when a team hasn’t been consistently in the playoffs, that’s their main focus. It seems that teams that set their goal to make the playoffs, they're always fighting to get there.
“You look at organizations that, from training camp, are looking to win the Stanley Cup. Not often do you see them fighting to be in the playoffs, and that’s the biggest difference (in Ottawa). It’s just a mindset that sets in through the players to management.
“I really noticed it here, how much attention they pay (to everything) ... not just on the ice, but what we do in the gym, and how the players are treated. It’s not just the players, it's the whole organization.”
Not that Robitaille doesn’t have it in him to enjoy the thrill of the chase. He was part of an Islanders team that needed to beat the New Jersey Devils in a shootout in the final game of the 2006-07 NHL season to make the playoffs. The Isles had to overcome blowing a 2-0 lead and surrendering the tying goal with one second to play.
“I remember going into that shootout, I looked back at the assistant coach, Danny Lacroix, and said ‘are you kidding me? We’re in a shootout to make the playoffs. That’s crazy.’ ”
It isn't expected to get to that point in Ottawa, where the Senators have been at the top of the Eastern Conference standings for most of the season.
The bonus for Robitaille? He’s getting to enjoy the ride right in his home town.
“It doesn’t hurt when you live 10 minutes down the road and you know the area,” the Ottawa native said with a grin.