OTTAWA – It’s never a good sign when an NHL team is spending as much time in meetings as it is on the ice, according to Jason Spezza.
In the case of the Senators, it’s a pretty good indication of the current state of affairs in Ottawa given the number of times Spezza and his teammates have gathered for talks in the past week.
“When you’re losing, it’s never fun and you always meet more than when you’re winning,” the star centre said Tuesday.
Hours after a 2-1 shootout loss in New York to the Rangers ran the Senators’ winless streak to five games, Ottawa returned home and, in place of a practice, held a team meeting before taking part in an off-ice workout.
It’s the fourth time in five days that they’ve congregated – general manager Bryan Murray met with the players Friday, followed by a players’ meeting Saturday, and coach Craig Hartsburg held one-on-one sessions with the players Sunday. Throw in Tuesday’s session and it’s clear that the Senators aren’t in a good way these days.
“Whenever you’re losing hockey games, it feels like crisis mode and we know that we have to get better,” Spezza said. “Sometimes a meeting is a good way to talk things out and get everybody on the same page. They’ve showed us a lot of negative stuff and lot of positive stuff, too, in the last couple of games and it just kind of gives you a good idea of where you have to be as a team.”
And where the Senators are as a team is not anywhere near where they want to be.
Usually one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams, goals have been as hard to come by as wins have been lately. They’ve managed just five in the past five games and 42 through the first 18 games. Only four teams have scored fewer heading into Tuesday’s games.
“Any scorer can tell you that when you score a bunch, it just happens naturally, and right now it’s not,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who snapped a 10-game goalless drought against the Rangers. “I believe that you can make your own luck and you’ve got to work hard and believe in yourself and we’ll get it done. That’s where we are right now.”
The lack of production has helped them sink to 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings and 28th overall in the 30-team league.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed where we’re at right now,” said Hartsburg, who was at least encouraged by his team’s effort in picking up a point against the Rangers. “But I also knew that this was going to be a challenge.
“I don’t want to bring up last year, but this team struggled the last 40 games. It struggled to score, it gave up way too many goals against last year. We’re trying to fix some things still and we’re disappointed we haven’t been able to fix it quicker.”
Hence the meetings, which seem to be only outnumbered by the rumours of impending personnel changes if things don’t turn around soon.
Murray is said to have already been working the phones with an eye to making a deal.
“As players, that’s always the case,” Spezza said of reports that have linked the Senators with a number of trades. “Our business is results oriented and we have to win hockey games and if you don’t win hockey games, we’re not happy, the team’s not happy, the owner’s not happy, nobody’s happy, so things can happen. That’s why we want to get out of this and get out of this fast and get going.”
Injuries aren’t helping to ease the situation.
Ottawa’s next game is Thursday at home against the Montreal Canadiens and Hartsburg doesn’t expect to have centre Mike Fisher or Chris Neil available after both players suffered knee injuries on the road.
Having lost Neil on Saturday against the New York Islanders, Fisher was forced out of Monday’s game against the Rangers.
Neil underwent an MRI on Tuesday morning and was awaiting the results, while Fisher was scheduled to see the doctor later in the day.
“At this point, I really don’t know the extent of the injury,” Fisher said. “I just kind of tweaked my leg behind the net. I was able to finish the shift, but I knew I did something. It kind of locked up on me and I couldn’t put any weight on it.”
Against the Rangers, Ottawa pest Jarkko Ruutu was involved in a bit of controversy during the shootout when he fanned on his shot attempt against Henrik Lundqvist. After the play appeared to be dead, he fired a shot at the Rangers’ goaltender, which drew extra attention from the New York bench afterward.
On Tuesday, Ruutu insisted he made a legitimate play and claimed an unnamed Rangers player swung a stick at his head, but wouldn’t pursue the matter with the league.
With the Senators and Rangers meeting again Saturday, he’d prefer Ottawa just turn its game around in time to get some revenge on the scoreboard.
“It’s no secret. We just have to play a simple game – shoot the puck a lot – and when things start turning around and start going our way, things will be a lot easier,” he said. “Right now, it’s a little frustrating, but there’s nobody else that can change it around except us.
“We’re not happy with the way we’ve started the season, but it’s not time to panic or do something stupid.”