OTTAWA – Since returning from the Olympic break, the Ottawa Senators have found goals – and wins – tough to come by.
When the Battle of Ontario resumes in Ottawa on Tuesday, the Senators will be looking to solve their scoring woes against the rival Maple Leafs.
Toronto is out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, but the Senators are concerned about their own status coming down the stretch.
“We’ve got to put more pucks in the back of the net, that’s real important,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said Monday after Ottawa returned to practice following a three-game road trip.
The Senators’ task could be even more difficult with the expected absence of Mike Fisher. Fisher left practice early Monday for an undisclosed injury, and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game.
Even before Fisher’s injury, Clouston planned to shuffle his lines. Fisher had been expected to be joined on the second line by Alfredsson and Matt Cullen.
Alfredsson’s spot on the top line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek will be taken by Nick Foligno, who’s expected to return after missing 13 games with a broken leg.
Ryan Shannon, Peter Regin and Kovalev are another unit and Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu will be reunited.
“A lot of it has gone back to what’s worked well in the past,” said Clouston, who may also have Chris Campoli back on the blue-line after the defenceman missed eight games with a knee injury.
While the Senators went west for games against Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, their offence continued to go south.
Since the Olympic break, Ottawa has managed to score more than one goal in a game just once in six outings. Of its eight goals in that span, four of them came in one contest, a 4-1 victory over the lowly Oilers.
In fact, Ottawa’s only two wins in the past eight games came when the Senators managed more than a goal.
Before that, they’d won 14 of 16 contests when the goals were coming much easier.
“Before the Olympics … we always put a lot of pressure on the opposition and it’s a lot easier that way,” Alex Kovalev said. “We have to get that confidence back. Sometimes it’s gone because of not playing for a while.”
The Senators have now fallen three points behind the Buffalo Sabres for the Northeast Division lead and the Sabres have two games in hand.
“I don’t know if we’ve relaxed a little bit, but we’ve got to start treating these games like playoff games,” Clouston said.
Following a 5-1 loss Saturday night in Vancouver, captain Daniel Alfredsson told Hockey Night in Canada that he felt the Senators had become too complacent.
“I don’t know if I used the right word when I described it the other night,” Alfredsson said Monday, suggesting the Senators needed to find more urgency in their game, particularly on offence.
“We’re trying to find it. It’s been tough scoring goals for us, especially on the power play.”
The Leafs have won three out of five meetings between the teams this season and Toronto has not given the Senators much in the past two games – a 5-0 Leafs win on Feb. 6 that halted Ottawa’s franchise-record 11-game winning streak and a 2-1 triumph in shootout on March 6 when the Senators lineup was stricken by the flu.
During that last game, Ottawa’s Matt Carkner and Toronto’s Colton Orr fought for the fourth time this season. Afterward, Orr raised three fingers in the air to suggest the number of times he’s come out on top.
While Carkner, who plays regular minutes on the Senators blue-line, is more likely to have some input in determining the outcome than the little-used Orr, they’ve both helped put some of the intensity back in a rivalry that had grown stale in recent years and another rematch could be in the cards.
“It’s part of the game and everybody loves the story,” Carkner said. “Colton’s always ready and willing, so we’ll see what happens. I’m not really trying to think about it, because we need some wins going into the playoffs. I just want to put my best foot forward (if it does).”