|Chris Kelly and the Senators have done a total turnaround in the last 48 hours with back-to-back shutout victories over the Canadiens and Flyers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
Just when they appeared down and almost out, the Ottawa Senators are riding the crest of a new wave of confidence.
Funny what back-to-back shutout victories can do for you, isn't it?
To hear Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
tell it, that's just life in the National Hockey League these days — as maddening as the team's most fervent followers might find it at times.
"That’s the great thing and the frustrating thing with the way the league is today," Alfredsson said following the Senators' 2-0 blanking of the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night at Scotiabank Place. "There’s so many ups and downs and it’s very important to stay level when you’re going through a good streak and it’s very important not to get down on yourself when you’re losing, either."
The Senators have had plenty of experience with both in the last two months or so. A five-game losing streak in January was followed by a 14-2-0 stretch — including a franchise-record 11 straight wins — that pushed Ottawa to the top of the Northeast Division standings.
Then coming out of the Olympic break, a 1-7-1 skid reduced the Senators' margin over the ninth-place Atlanta Thrashers to a mere four points. But in about 27 hours, that gap was doubled to eight, thanks to victories over the Montreal Canadiens (2-0 on Monday at the Bell Centre) and the Flyers combined with an Atlanta loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night.
So the Senators and their fans can breathe a little easier today, even if it's anybody's guess when or if the pendulum might swing the other way again.
"We put ourselves in a pretty tough position before this," said centre Chris Kelly, whose first-period goal stood up as the game winner for Ottawa on Tuesday. "There's two big (wins) and Atlanta losing helps us. But we just have to look toward the next game and go forward from here.
"It's a long season, 82 games, and sometimes (the breaks) are going to go your way and sometimes they're not."
It's no coincidence that the Senators' latest turn in fortunes has mirrored the play of Elliott, who has stopped the last 61 shots he's faced and owns a current shutout string of 134:03 minutes.
"Els has been outstanding," said Kelly. "Especially in these two games, he's made some huge saves for us. He's a big reason why we've come out with these four points."
Now, all of a sudden, the Senators can entertain thoughts of perhaps reeling in the Buffalo Sabres for top spot in the Northeast Division. That possibility became a little more remote during Ottawa's post-Olympic slide, but the margin between the two teams is now five points, with two more meetings slated between them this season — including Friday night at HSBC Arena in Buffalo (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
"We would like to give ourselves a chance to catch them," said Alfredsson. "But more important is to continue to play the way we are."
"That's the great thing and the frustrating thing with the way the league is today. There’s so many ups and downs and it’s very important to stay level when you’re going through a good streak and it’s very important not to get down on yourself when you’re losing, either." - Daniel Alfredsson
The last two results indicate the Senators are getting back to the kind of hockey that spawned their 11-game winning streak, when Ottawa outscored its opposition 37-12. But Alfredsson admitted it's a fine line between that run and the rough patch that followed it.
"Sometimes, it’s just subtle things," he said. "It can turn quick and you lose some confidence here and there. It can change and it does for pretty much everybody (in the league) throughout the year. You’ve just got to stick with it.
"You’ve got to look at the details, how you’re playing. It’s so close and if you lose a few and all of a sudden you start worrying a little bit, you become passive and then you lose a few more in a row as well. You’ve just got to stay with it and believe and work hard. We’ve done that."
Now it's a matter of keeping it going through any ups and downs that lie ahead.
"It’s about the next game (now) and we’ve got to look forward," said Elliott. "Not get too high and just stay even-keeled and play the way we can."Around the boards
Elliott became the first Senators goaltender to post back-to-back shutouts since Dec. 27-29, 2006, when Ray Emery blanked the New York Islanders and New York Rangers in consecutive starts ... Kelly is slated to play his 400th career NHL game on Saturday, when the Florida Panthers visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Fewer than 3,000 tickets
remain for that game.