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Senators walking a fine line between wins, losses

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson and the Senators don't plan to spend any excess time just yet doing any scoreboard watching as the Eastern Conference playoff race heats up a little more with each passing day (Getty Images).

Sooner or later, the Ottawa Senators believe, the pendulum has to swing back in their direction.

Such is the ultra-competitive nature of play in the National Hockey League this season, in which today's four-game losing streak can become next week's string of wins in rather short order.

At least that's what the Senators are hoping come Friday night, when the New York Islanders visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) in the opener of a five-game homestand.

While the Senators are currently mired in a slump, they also know how quickly the tide can turn, given that their current four-game skid came right on the heels of a 10-1-1 stretch that propelled Ottawa into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

So what's the difference? Start with untimely mistakes, the kind that can be killers in a tight game. And it is worth noting that three of Ottawa's four most recent losses were all one-goal affairs. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson also took note that Wednesday's NHL schedule produced a pair of 1-0 results — one of them decided via shootout.

"Every team is tightening up, every mistake becomes bigger," Alfredsson said following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "The way we play, we’ve forced other teams to make mistakes. If we can just be a little bit smarter … we do a really good job of creating chances offensively for ourselves. There’s a fine line between us creating offence and giving up mistakes, but if we can find that line, we’ll be really good.

"We know we’re doing some good things to win games. We’re really close, but we’ve got to put that total effort together and get rid of a few mistakes and we’ll come out on top."

The Senators' recent change in fortunes is also being reflected in the East standings. In the middle of January, Ottawa had built a comfortable nine-point cushion in its bid for a playoff berth. Now that gap is down to four points over the Washington Capitals, who went from three overall in the conference to ninth by dropping a 4-2 decision Wednesday to the Florida Panthers, who regained top spot in the Southeast Division.

"We've lost four in a row and everybody's caught up to us," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "You win four in a row and you give yourself a little space but as soon as you lose a couple, the pack catches up to you. It's that competitive right now. We always talk about when you win, it's easy to keep winning, and when you lose, it's tough to find your way out of it. Now we have to find our way out of it."

What it won't require, the Senators believe, is a wholesale change in their approach to the game. Cleaning up the back-breaking mistakes is job No. 1 right now.

"We've been too consistent here for too long to not believe in what we're doing," said Alfredsson. "We analyze (things) too much sometimes just because we’ve lost four in a row and say ‘oh, we’ve got to start winning here.’ We’ve got to stick with it ... we know what we have to do to be successful. We know we can be better and have to be better to win, and that’s where the focus is."

While the Senators are certainly aware of what's going on around them in the standings, Spezza said it's much too soon to get into any kind of scoreboard-watching mode.

"It's a little early yet," he said. "If you start standings watching now, you're going to catch yourself in a bit of a rut. Either you're going to think you're too comfortable or you're struggling. I'd say March 1, for me, is when I start paying a little more attention."

Added goaltender Craig Anderson: "We can't control what else is out there. For us, we’ve just got to continue to climb the standings and not worry about what other teams are doing or where the points are. If we take care of our job and we take care of business in our own building, at the end of the day, we’ll be in the spot we want to be."

Around the boards

With nine points, including four goals, during 14 games in January, Senators forward Colin Greening was among the runners-up for the NHL's rookie of the month award, which went to Cody Hodgson of the Vancouver Canucks (6-4-10) ... Binghamton Senators winger Andre Petersson is the Reebok/AHL Rookie of the Month for January after producing 15 points (8-7) in eight games, including six multi-point efforts. The Swedish forward made his NHL debut with Ottawa on Jan. 21 in a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks ... Defenceman Chris Phillips (lower body) returned to practice today and head coach Paul MacLean expects he'll be in the lineup against the Isles on Friday night. "There's been no setbacks as far as I was told, so I would anticipate he'll be ready for tomorrow," said MacLean ... Blueliner Brian Lee (lower body) went through a full practice today but his availability for the weekend has yet to be determined. "We'll see how it is tomorrow and make an evaluation then," said MacLean ... Anderson has been tabbed to make his 16th straight start on Friday, which would set a personal career high. 

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