On the surface, at least, the reasons for it all might seem so utterly complex.
The question, however, is most obvious for the Ottawa Senators: What to do to escape a losing streak extended to four games by a 3-2 setback at the hands of the Maple Leafs on Saturday night in Toronto?
Ask Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg, though, and he'll tell you the solution begins with the most simple of objectives.
"We have to go right back to the basics," Hartsburg said earlier today as the Senators began preparations for a daunting test against the high-flying Sabres in Buffalo on Monday night (7 p.m., NHL Network, Team 1200). "Earlier in training camp even, we were so much better defensively but it seems like we’ve lost our way on that for whatever reason. We’ve got to tighten things up defensively.
"When you struggle and you’re not playing well, if you start to try to complicate the game – which I think it looks like we’re try to doing at times – you’ve got to go back and be good defensively. We’ve got to tighten that part up first."
Those troubles, he added, are hampering the Senators' ability to produce more offence. They've manufactured just eight goals in the four losses.
"When good players have to spend 35 to 40 seconds in your own end, you’re not going to have a chance to score. It’s just desperation just to get the thing out," said Hartsburg. "We’ve got to be better there, we’ve got to break the puck out better so that we can have a chance to create more offence. Until we clean up those two other areas – defensive zone coverage and breakouts – we’re not going to look like a team that can score.
"We’ve got to get our game solid defensively and take a step forward in that part of it, and then you can start to go forward. But until we clean up the defensive part of our game, we’re spinning our wheels and probably going backward instead of forward."
Though his team is struggling through the franchise's slowest start in 14 seasons, general manager Bryan Murray remains confident in the group he has assembled and has no immediate plans to make changes.
"I think we show in every game spurts of time – and not long enough, obviously – but spurts of time where we dominate," he said. "We control periods of games and big blocks, like periods or periods and a half of games. But before and after that, it seems like we just stand around.
"These guys want to win. I watched them in the third period (Friday) night (a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks) and again last night. They want to win. They’re somewhat tentative in their play but they’re not playing as a co-ordinated group all the time."
Both of the Senators' goals Saturday night were scored by fourth-liners: Shean Donovan and Dean McAmmond, who teamed up with Jarkko Ruutu to form the team's most effective combination against the Leafs.
"They had success because they worked hard, they worked smart and they had some energy to their game," said Hartsburg. "Everybody has to play a simpler, smarter game."
Around the boardsAlex Auld
, who turned in a strong effort against the Leafs by stopping 35-of-38 shots, will make his third straight start on Monday night. "I like his poise in the net," said Hartsburg. "Right now, we're not playing very well in front of him defensively but he doesn't seem rattled by it all. He's giving us a chance." The status of starter Martin Gerber (pulled leg muscle) remains undecided ... With a pair of assists on Saturday night, defenceman Filip Kuba
set a National Hockey League record by recording helpers in his first eight games of this season ... Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for each of the Senators' next three home games: Nov. 4 (Washington), Nov. 6 (Philadelphia) and Nov. 13 (New York Islanders).