Their frustration continues to build, but the Ottawa Senators have one more chance to get back on the right track before the National Hockey League’s all-star break.
The Senators face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at St. Pete Times Forum (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200) to wrap up what’s been – so far, at least – a mostly miserable road trip.
Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., followed on the heels of a 6-1 setback Sunday night in Philadelphia. The Senators are now 1-4-1 in their last six games since beating the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings 3-2 back on Jan. 12.
Most alarming have been the defensive breakdowns that have led to opposing shooters finding the Senators net 11 times in the past two games.
“It’s frustrating,” centre Mike Fisher said after Tuesday’s loss to the Panthers. “It seems like every little breakdown or mistake (we make), it’s in our net. Defensively, we’re not solid at all or playing strong and we’re making bad decisions and getting beat.”
General manager Bryan Murray said Wednesday the defensive end has to become more of a focus for the team to get out of its current funk.
"We are position wise okay. We're not playing okay," said Murray. "We're playing uncommitted to defence. That's No. 1. When you watch our team, we're not preventing scoring chances. Every night we're giving up too many goals. We don't have enough respect for that side of the puck.
"It's hard to turn the team around if you don't focus on the right things. And the right things to me right now are playing good defence, being responsible and helping each other. And the goals will come from players who are supposed to score goals."
Murray planned to meet with the team on Thursday.
"We have to get them back on track as far as commitment to playing the game right," he said. "When you give up goals the way we did again (Tuesday) night, we're not playing the game right."
"But we know we're a lot better than we're playing and I know we'll come back ... The biggest thing is, all these guys are good players and they've had, for the most part, a real good history of playing well. And I really think that they will."
Captain Daniel Alfredsson
said he believes it’s a case of “sometimes wanting to do too much.”
“We gave up way too many 3-on-2s (Tuesday) night and that’s fundamental,” he said. “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. Make them work for their goals and make good plays, and we’ll take that.”
The Panthers scored their fourth goal early in the third period on one of those 3-on-2s – Alfredsson called it “the heartbreaker” – and it ended up being the game-winner.
Head coach John Paddock went a step further, saying the play that led to the goal “should never happen.”
“It was too easy a 3-on-2,” he said. “It’s not like you get a scoring chance and you get caught on a 3-on-2. We had clear possession of the puck, we come into the zone and our third guy just goes for a skate.”
Paddock reinforced that message Wednesday.
"I told the players today after showing them a half dozen clips from (Tuesday) night ... stop doing lip service to it and do it," he said.
All that being said, Paddock was impressed with the Senators’ performance through the first two periods, when they held the edge in shots, carried a lot of the play and were even at 2-2 until the final few minutes of the second.
“I thought we were really good for two periods and Ray (goaltender Emery) was really good for two periods,” he said. “In the third period, we weren’t very good and I didn’t think he was very good. You don’t get much for playing 40 minutes.”
Martin Gerber will return to the Senators' net Thursday against the Lightning.
After Thursday’s matchup in Tampa, Fla., the Senators and the rest of the league take a four-day break for the all-star festivities in Atlanta. Except, of course, Alfredsson and Jason Spezza
, who’ll play in the Sunday night contest at Philips Arena. Paddock will also be on the job as head coach of the Eastern Conference team.
Then it’s back to work next Tuesday in Uniondale, N.Y., against the Islanders.
The Senators’ next home game is Jan. 31 vs. the Boston Bruins. It’s a 7:30 p.m. puck drop at Scotiabank Place.