|With forward Alex Kovalev sidelined by injury for at least a week, the Senators will be counting on depth from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., to help fill the void and have several options in that area (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Their already offensively-challenged lineup is now missing another top gun.
But perhaps more than they have in years, the Ottawa Senators feel a lot more comfortable in turning the battle over to the reserves.
The struggling Senators could likely do without the latest piece of injury news to hit their ranks — forward Alex Kovalev is gone for at least a week with pain in his surgically-repaired left knee. With centre Jason Spezza
(shoulder) already on the shelf, that's two big hits for an offence that needs all hands on deck in the scoring area.
Ask Cory Clouston about life without two key parts of his offence, however, and the Senators head coach prefers to take the glass half-full approach to the situation.
"We're looking at it as an opportunity for somebody else to step up," Clouston said following an upbeat Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "Whether it's a young guy or somebody already in our lineup, they can pick up those minutes."
What's particularly heartening to Clouston — and the entire organization, for that matter — is that as they look toward their American Hockey League affiliate for a callup, they see plenty of options on the roster of the Binghamton Senators. Some of whom have already chipped in at various points so far this season.
"Jimmy O'Brien went back down (after a recent callup) and he's had a couple of good games," said Clouston. "Eric Condra has really started to play well offensively and he's a very intelligent player. There's also Corey Locke (the B-Sens' leading scorer) and Bobby Butler
"So to me, there are about four or five guys (who could help us) and that's a real positive sign for the organization. Three years ago, we didn't have that depth ... we didn't have those three, four or five guys that you could rely on and that you know, over the next couple of years, that you're going to see those guys up here."
Not that scoring at the AHL level automatically means production in the National Hockey League. Just ask Zack Smith
, who is back up with big club after a stint in Binghamton and has seen both sides of the game.
"It is a lot different game (in the NHL)," he said. "Up here, we’ve been known to score in bunches, too, and the same thing down there. In Bingo, they’ve got some guys who are putting up good points this year. It’s tough to say whether it’ll translate to playing up here.
"To me, there are about four or five guys (who could help us) and that's a real positive sign for the organization. Three years ago, we didn't have that depth ... we didn't have those three, four or five guys that you could rely on and that you know, over the next couple of years, that you're going to see those guys up here." - Cory Clouston
"Up here, it’s more about capitalizing on mistakes and the system is more structured. That’s the main difference I notice."
Clouston suggested it's also possible that, in an effort to generate added offence, he'll give more ice time to the line of Smith, Jesse Winchester
and Ryan Shannon when the Senators face off against the Bruins on Tuesday night at the TD Garden in Boston (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).
The trio has been one of Ottawa's most effective combinations in the last few games, with Smith scoring the lone goal in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Place. But with Kovalev now sidelined, the overall mix could change.
"That line in general has been a real good line for us, so we have to decide whether we're going to break that line up or just give them more minutes as a group," he said. "It's tough to break that line up, so it might be a matter of giving them more minutes as their play improves."
In the wake of back-to-back losses to the Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks over the weekend, the Senators (16-20-6) find themselves 11 points back of the final Eastern Conference playoff position currently held by the Montreal Canadiens. As daunting as the mountain seems, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson
and his teammates haven't lost their resolves to find a way to scale it.
"We're trying to stay in the present here," said Alfredsson. "We feel like we still have a chance and that's what we're working toward ... We can only look forward. We can't change what's done. We can control our work ethic in practice and in games. That's what we're going to have to have, especially now that we're missing some offensive players."Around the boards
With Pascal Leclaire (lower body) still on the mend, Mike Brodeur is expected to be recalled from Binghamton to back up Brian Elliott in Boston. But Clouston is pointing toward giving Robin Lehner
, the organization's top goaltending prospect, the opportunity to make his first NHL start later this week when the Senators are facing three games in four nights. "We're expecting him to play again tomorrow (with the B-Sens)," said Clouston. "We want to get Robin in one more game there, then we'll see how this weekend goes." ... Mike Fisher, who left Saturday's game against the Lightning with a lower-body injury, didn't practise today but Clouston's expects the gritty centre to be in the lineup against the Bruins ... Ottawa closes out a two-game road trip Thursday against the New York Islanders (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) before returning home to face the Calgary Flames on Friday at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).