It was a huge, necessary step but the job is far from done.
As they hit the quarter pole in the 2008-09 season, the Ottawa Senators know full well the tough sledding is just beginning. But after a week of improved play, which concluded with Saturday's impressive 4-1 triumph over the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Place, the tide appears to be turning the Senators' way.
Now, head coach Craig Hartsburg says, the trick is to keep the roll going on a much more consistent basis.
"We think we're going in the right direction but we've got to prove it over a long period of time," he said after the Senators' workout Monday at Scotiabank Place. "We've got to get those (bad) games out of our system and be consistent in how we play.
"When we play well, we have a certain look to us, and when we don't play that same type of game, we haven't had a lot of success. Hopefully, the players are starting to understand what will give them the best chance of winning.... We have to string a bunch of these games together so that gives us a chance to win hockey games."
With a 7-9-4 mark through 20 games, the Senators sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. That's four points back of a playoff position but there's still plenty of hockey yet to be played. Not that the urgency about it all isn't starting to set in already.
"We look at it (now) like every game, we need to win," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "We're in the situation, where ... we need to get every possible point that we can. (Whether) it's teams above us or below us in the standings, we've just got to find a way to get points."
The Senators grabbed four of a possible six points in three games last week. But it was the victory over the Rangers that offered the tangible reward the team had been so desperately seeking during a six-game winless skid. Now they're eager to keep building on it, starting with Thursday's visit by the Toronto Maple Leafs to Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).
"Winning is everything and everybody knows that," said forward Shean Donovan, who's part of an energy line with Dean McAmmond and Jarkko Ruutu that has provided a key spark in recent games. "You want to get in there and get wins and you want to get on a streak and catch teams. You want to be the hottest team going into the playoffs but you've got to get going to get into the playoffs. It's all about getting into the playoffs.
"We look at the standings and we're just going to work hard on (building) our team. We're just excited that we're playing better and the team's keeping it simple and working harder, just the way we're supposed to play. If we play like that and get better and better, we're going to be a really good team here and a hard team to play against."
Defenceman Chris Phillips
believes the up-and-down start – and, more importantly, what the Senators have learned from it – will pay big dividends over the long haul.
"We struggled early and learned what it takes for this group of guys to win and what we have to do every night and we're going to be better off in the long run," he said. "The last few games have been good for that and we want to keep it going forward and continue."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "We've got to be much better as a team. We've shown signs we can be a good team and that's the frustrating part. We've been inconsistent and haven't been able to put together a stretch (of wins) lately.
"We feel like it's coming and taking some time, but we know we're going to have to be really good in the next little while as a team. We feel confident we can do it."
Around the boards
Fisher (knee) and Ryan Shannon (concussion) were scheduled to skate on their own after practice today, but Hartsburg said it's too soon to say whether either might be available to suit up against the Leafs. "I have no idea (yet)," said Fisher. "If I feel good, I'll play. It's starting to feel okay and that's a good sign." ... Forward Chris Neil
's knee surgery on Friday was deemed a success but there is no timetable yet for his return ... Fewer than 750 tickets remain for Thursday's game.