The Ottawa Senators had Sunday off to rest, relax and gather to watch the Super Bowl before heading back to work Monday morning.
Even after a 5-3 win over the arch-rival Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night at the Canadian Tire Centre, the Senators are still 16 points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wildcard spot in the East, but with 34 games left on the schedule the club will never-say-never.
The odds are stacked against them, but the Senators won’t wave the white flag on this season and they showed strong compete in the Battle of Ontario, which is another small step in the right direction.
“We’ve got a group in this room that isn’t going to allow that to happen,” defenceman Jakob Chychrun said Saturday morning before facing the Leafs. “We’ve got guys that have a lot of pride in this room and we would definitely never throw in the towel.
“We’re going to play hard each other, play for one another and see what happens.”
That’s the right approach for the Senators to take because they still have 21 road games left before the final buzzer sounds on the season.
After a 10-day break in the schedule, the Senators picked up where they left by extending their winning streak to three straight. The club has a 6-2-2 record in its last 10 games and has seven wins in its last 11.
Sometimes wins late in the season by teams sitting where the Senators are right now in the standings are referred to as “fool’s gold’. That’s hardly the case here because interim coach Jacques Martin was brought in to provide a mindset and that message has been getting through.
The Senators are a better team because they’re playing well at both ends of the ice and they’re getting saves from goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. They’d have to string together an enormous amount of wins to push for a playoff spot, but the mindset and the approach is what’s important.
Nobody in the room is talking about making the playoffs. The Senators will face the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday, Anaheim Ducks Thursday and Chicago Blackhawks on the road Saturday and all three of those teams are out of the post-season picture.
This week can be considered an opportunity for the Senators to try to make up some ground. The club is currently ranked No. 15 in the East and there are too many teams to pass the make the playoffs, but maybe the Senators can put themselves in the conversation.
“It’s got to be game-by-game, especially with the situation that we’re in right now,” said alternate captain Claude Giroux, who tied it up 1-1 in the first period. “Last year, we went to Chicago, we were playing some good hockey and we were kind of coming back into a playoff spot, and we lost that game. We weren’t very good and we came out flat.
“That’s something where it doesn’t matter who you play, any team can beat any team. We’ve got to go one game at time, enjoy this win right now but we’ve got to move on.”
The key Saturday was after falling behind early the Senators didn’t let the first 10 minutes of the game dictate the way the played throughout.
“I thought we were slow off the mark,” said Martin.”But I think that’s kind of expected after being off and not having played. I think Toronto took advantage of that, but I liked how we finished the first period.
“I thought we gained some momentum. I thought we engaged a lot more. We started to be more physical. We started to control the puck in the offensive zone, and I think that helped our play.”
Giroux said the Senators are doing a better job staying on an even keel after the puck is dropped. The players are trying not to get caught up in the highs and lows of the game by keeping a steady approach for 60 minutes.
“We don’t get as frustrated as we used to,” Giroux said. “We just know that if we play our game and if we’re consistent in what we’re doing, good things are going to happen. It’s a good team at the other side, but we were able to play a good 50 minutes.”
THE LAST WORDS
The Senators will likely have to make a roster decision Monday so they can activate goalie Anton Forsberg before facing the Jackets.
He’s missed 11 games with a right groin injury but the club didn’t take him off the long-term injury list Saturday and dressed Kevin Mandolese as the backup.
Forsberg makes $2.75 million U.S. and the Senators will have to send Mandolese down plus make another move to fit him under the cap. That either means putting someone on waivers or general manager Steve Staios makes a trade without bringing another salary back in return.
Mandolese is on an emergency recall and can go back anytime.
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