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Senators aiming to go on the offensive

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
In an effort to boost the team's struggling offence, Senators head coach Cory Clouston has made some alignment changes, including moving Peter Regin onto a line alongside Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Their goal couldn't be much more simpler now.

The Ottawa Senators are clearly a team starved for offence these days, with Wednesday night's 2-1 home-ice loss to the Dallas Stars further evidence of the depth of this team's goal-scoring woes. So it was hardly a surprise to see head coach Cory Clouston put the emphasis on offence when the team reconvened for practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex in advance of Friday's matinee matchup with the Penguins in Pittsburgh (1 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

Clouston rolled out a new set of lines, moving Peter Regin up to the wing alongside Jason Spezza and captain Daniel Alfredsson, with Mike Fisher centring Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek on the second line. The other trios: Nick Foligno-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu-Jesse Winchester-Ryan Shannon.

"Right now, we wanted to put what we consider our top six forwards on our top two lines, up their minutes and lean on them a little bit (more)," said Clouston in explaining the latest round of line shuffling. "That's not to discount or discredit the value of the other two lines. We feel our third line can be very effective for us (offensively)."

Along the same lines, there is also "a very good chance," Clouston added, that offensively-gifted blueliner Erik Karlsson will return to the lineup Friday after watching the previous two games from the pressbox.

"We need Erik Karlsson to go back into the lineup and help us out," said Clouston. "When we were winning (an 8-3-0 stretch through Nov. 13), we were getting goals and point production from our back end as well. When we've had success, we've done it in different ways and had production from different people."

Until last week, goal production didn't seem to be an issue with the Senators. But during a current 1-4-0 skid, Ottawa has produced only eight goals. Also disconcerting is the shortage of scoring opportunities — the Senators generated only 19 shots in each of their last two outings, including Monday's 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Place.

"When you're winning, it just kind of happens on its own," he said. "You’re not thinking, you’re just playing. And when you’re struggling a little bit, those plays seem harder to make for some reason. Maybe it’s just the mental side of it and I’m pretty sure it probably is. For some reason, those plays are tough to make and you’re thinking more about them. For us, I think it’s about trying to get into a rhythm and trying to get into a consistency that you have where you’re driving the net and putting pucks to the net. When you’re winning games, that’s usually what you’re doing to win games." - Nick Foligno
So where has all the offence gone? Captain Daniel Alfredsson said "it's not just one thing," adding "I wish it was as simple as that."

"I’m not frustrated. I know how hard it is," he said. "It’s a battle every night. Today, we’re talking about offence and that’s the area we have to improve the most right now. We’re not creating enough sustained pressure on the other team as we can. When we get everybody skating and get our forecheck going, we’re really hard to play against."

Foligno, who's still looking for his first goal of the season, agreed the struggle to score can weigh on a team mentally — if it allows that to happen.

"When you're winning, it just kind of happens on its own," he said. "You’re not thinking, you’re just playing. And when you’re struggling a little bit, those plays seem harder to make for some reason. Maybe it’s just the mental side of it and I’m pretty sure it probably is. For some reason, those plays are tough to make and you’re thinking more about them.

"For us, I think it’s about trying to get into a rhythm and trying to get into a consistency that you have where you’re driving the net and putting pucks to the net. When you’re winning games, that’s usually what you’re doing to win games. For some reason, when you’re losing, you get away from that and we’ve got to find a way to get back to it."

Easier said than done sometimes, suggested Clouston.

"I think we were playing very well until last week," he said. "Now we’re trying to find our game again. We had found it — we were playing well, we were winning games and we got ourselves into a real positive position. Now we’re kind of being inconsistent again. We win a game (Monday) night, a tough game (against) a tough opponent, a close game we found a way to win.

"Last night, the opposite happened. We found ways to almost lose the game as far as not scoring on our chances, not being persistent enough on the forecheck, giving up too many quality chances against us. Now we’ve got to just right the ship and get back to being consistent and doing the little things right."

Of course, there is no better cure for such a malady than a few wins.

"It’s frustrating when you’re not winning games," said centre Jason Spezza. "If it’s low scoring and you’re winning games, that’s fine, but when you’re losing games and not scoring, you’ve got to find a way to generate more offence. I think as a group we’ve just got to make a conscious effort to create more."

Around the boards

Karlsson on his likely return to the lineup Friday: "We'll see tomorrow, but it feels good. I've been feeling good for a couple of days now and it will be good to get back the next game. Then you've got to show that you (deserve) to stay there." ... Veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar took a "maintenance" day away from practice, but Clouston said "he'll be okay" to face off against his former team on Friday ... The Senators return home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200), with the Edmonton Oilers visiting the capital on Monday (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).


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