OTTAWA – For the first time in a while, spirits were up around the Ottawa Senators dressing room Friday.
A 6-4 win Thursday night against the New York Islanders not only kept the Senators clinging to their playoff hopes, but also provided a little job security.
“We know that obviously the possibility of (changes) happening is very real when you’re in our position,” Senators centre Mike Fisher said Friday. “We still feel like we’re a good team and can compete and no one here wants to see guys shipped out and rebuilding and talks of that stuff . . . but I know the reality is if we don’t start to play and win, guys are going to be gone.”
That’s why beating the Islanders on the road to halt a six-game winless slide relieved, at least temporarily, some of the pressure.
With Ottawa starved for goals, recording just seven during its recent slide, the six-goal outburst represented the most the Senators have scored this season.
“That felt good, just seeing some guys score and get that many,” said Fisher ahead of Friday’s home game against the Flames. “It was fun, obviously, to get a win and find the back of the net. Hopefully, we can carry that over.”
The victory, which came against one of the NHL’s worst teams, was also Ottawa’s first since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Boxing Day.
“We haven’t had that feeling this year yet,” defenceman Matt Carkner said. “That was our first win of the new year and we just needed something positive to start happening just to see what we can do and that we can score goals and all of that kind of stuff if we just reach our potential.”
Just what that potential is has been much debated by fans and the media throughout the season. As a result, general manager Bryan Murray, coach Cory Clouston and the players have all found themselves on the hot seat.
The Senators have had to learn to play with that cloud hanging over their heads every time they step on the ice.
“It’s been a lot of hype about that for the last few weeks and basically we’ve talked about it, it’s kind of out there, and we’re not worried about it,” said Carkner. “We’re just trying to take care of what we can do. Right now, our focus is just playing hockey, we’re trying to keep all of the outside distractions away.”
The Senators, who began play Friday in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and 11 points out of a playoff spotberth, have taken to shuffling their lineup as a result of injuries to veterans Jason Spezza (shoulder), who skated Friday but is not close to returning, Alex Kovalev (knee) and Pascal Leclaire (lower body).
They scratched blue-liner Chris Campoli on Thursday and gave a first NHL start to rookie Swedish netminder Robin Lehner and a Senators debut to longtime minor-league centre Corey Locke. Lehner made 20 saves to earn the win and the 26-year-old Locke had an assist for his first NHL point.
Although Brian Elliott was scheduled to start in goal Friday against the Flames, Locke kept his spot in the lineup.
That the Senators are turning to their AHL farm team in Binghamton is a sign that time, and patience, is running short and every defeat speeds up the process. In the meantime, the Senators will hope for more results like Thursday’s.
“There’s always that bit of tension when you’re losing games, but we’ve stayed positive and everybody’s been still in a pretty good mood considering the circumstances and I think that’s helped a lot for everybody,” defenceman Erik Karlsson said. “The coach has been positive as well, so it’s been a lot easier than maybe if you put your head down and start complaining.”