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Senators still keeping the faith

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Mike Fisher is hopeful he'll overcome an upper-body ailment in time to suit up against the Thrashers in Atlanta on Thursday night (Getty Images).

Nothing, apparently, is going to keep the Ottawa Senators down for long.

Not a post-Olympic break skid that has them drop six of seven games. Not even the fact that, outside of their lone victory in Edmonton, the Senators' scoring touch has all but vanished in the last two weeks or so.

Instead, it was an energetic group that showed an upbeat mood during practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex, then talked in confident tones afterward about their belief that better days are indeed just around the corner.

"We're struggling right now," centre Mike Fisher said in reference to the Senators' current 1-5-1 slide. "It's not a secret, but there's no need to panic. We can't get frustrated. We know what type of team we have and we've got to stay confident. We're in a good position, we just have to finish it strong and on a high.

"There's no reason we can't get that feeling back that we had."

Fisher, of course, is referring to the 11-game winning streak that pushed the Senators to the top of the Northeast Division heading into the Olympic break. That would have meant at least a No. 3 seeding in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs, but now Ottawa (37-28-5) is barely clinging to fifth spot in the conference, with the red-hot Montreal Canadiens just a point behind and the Philadelphia Flyers three back.

While nobody in the Ottawa dressing room is taking a playoff spot for granted, there isn't any sense that their post-season hopes are in jeopardy of slipping away, either. Still, they'd definitely like to be carrying a better brand of hockey into the playoffs.

"We know the situation we’re in and we’re still in good shape as we sit today," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "If you want to go to the playoffs and you want to go far in the playoffs, you need to go on a roll beforehand. We need to find that and it’s not just something that’s going to happen from one game. It’s habits that we’re going to have to do better.

"We’ve looked at video the last little bit here to go back to the little things that we’ve done well. It’s a matter of executing, as well, and putting that puck into the net."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "We just want to start winning games. We’re not worried about playoffs or seeding or where we’re going to be. We just want to start winning games and getting that good feeling back."

In their six losses (including one in overtime) since the Olympic break, the Senators have scored a mere five goals. The startling dropoff in production has given general manager Bryan Murray cause for concern, to be sure, but he knows the going is about to get tougher with his team heading out on a three-game road trip that starts Thursday in Atlanta against the Thrashers (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

"We're struggling right now. It's not a secret, but there's no need to panic. We can't get frustrated. We know what type of team we have and we've got to stay confident. We're in a good position, we just have to finish it strong and on a high. There's no reason we can't get that feeling back that we had." - Mike Fisher
"How many times did the puck bounce off our sticks last night?" Murray said in reference to Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place. "We get breaks and then we shoot it into (the goaltender's) pads. When things aren’t good, you don’t feel good about it. You need a break, where someone just shoots the puck and it goes in the net off a skate or something like that and things snowball."

Senators head coach Cory Clouston has seen exactly how fast the tide can turn. Before their team-record winning streak began in mid-January, Ottawa had dropped five straight games, including a disheartening 6-1 setback in Atlanta.

"Things can turn around very quickly," said Clouston. "For as quick as it’s gone south on us, it can go in the opposite direction, too. But we can’t just expect it to happen automatically. We’ve got to do things to make it happen.

"We went through this earlier this year in a span of about five or six games and we became a better team from it. That’s what our whole goal is now. It’s forcing us to go through our whole game with a fine-toothed comb and analyze things maybe a little bit more than we normally would have, which isn’t a bad thing. Now we’re trying to right our ship."

Around the boards

Alfredsson, Fisher and defencemen Matt Carkner and Anton Volchenkov skipped practice today but all boarded the flight to Atlanta this afternoon. Fisher, who missed Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury, is hopeful he'll be good to go against the Thrashers. "I feel better today," he said. "We’ll see how I progress and how I feel tomorrow. I’ll try to skate in the morning and I’m definitely hoping to play." ... Blueliner Filip Kuba, sidelined for the last six games with a lower-body ailment, skated on his own before practice and Clouston said it's possible he'll rejoin the lineup Thursday ... The Sens' road trip also includes stops in Dallas on Saturday (2 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) and Montreal on Monday (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet, Team 1200).

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