The Ottawa Senators don’t have to look far for a reminder about the urgency of the moment.
A quick glance at the Eastern Conference standings should do the trick. And yes, the Senators are well aware that the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils have both pulled even with them at the top of the heap – all three teams now owning a conference-best 73 points.
Depending on what goes down Tuesday night, the Senators could wake up Wednesday morning all the way down in fourth place. Or alone in front of the pack once again, with a slim edge over their closest pursuers.
Extra motivation, perhaps, to get the job done Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) against the slumping Philadelphia Flyers?
“It should be,” forward Antoine Vermette said after the Senators’ pre-game skate this morning. “No doubt about it. We had a pretty good lead early in the season and now it’s a new game.
“We’re not surprised (that lead is gone). We know we haven’t been playing well lately. So, hopefully, this could be one thing we can use to be more motivated and have a better performance.”
Thanks to a 16-3-0 start, the Senators have owned top spot in the conference since the first week of the season. But since edging the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings 3-2 back on Jan. 12, they’ve slipped into a 5-10-1 tailspin – including a current three-game losing streak – that has cost them all of what was once a healthy cushion.
“That should be a source of pride, that you’ve been in first place that long,” said Senators head coach John Paddock when asked if the tightness of the East race should add some urgency to his team’s play. “It should be an extra driving force or motivation.”
Paddock still believes it’s a group of players that, despite their recent struggles, still brings an air of confidence to the rink on game nights.
“I think they’re quietly confident right now,” said Paddock. “When you’re in a losing streak… they have higher expectations than that, they have higher expectations on themselves than most people do outside the team. But I think they’re still a very confident group.”
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson
: “I feel like we’re still in good position. We’re in first place. We’re not happy with the way we’ve been playing lately but if we can push ourselves, we’ve still got a good chance of finishing first, even if we lose the lead for a game or two. It’s not out of our hands.”
The Flyers, meanwhile, arrive in Ottawa in the throes of a seven-game losing streak that has put a playoff berth in jeopardy. But Paddock remains wary of a team that is 2-0-0 against the Senators this season.
“They play in straight lines, they go to the net, they compete and battle,” he said. “It’s a good team.”
One thing is for sure – one team’s skid will end tonight.
“Somebody has to win,” Paddock said with a grin. “In the new NHL, somebody has to win.”Lineup notes
Forward Chris Neil
has a touch of the flu and Paddock said it’ll be a game-time decision whether he suits up tonight. “It’s obviously questionable,” he said … Ray Emery (10-10-3) makes his third straight start in goal tonight.