Entering Sunday night’s game against Carolina, the confounding Ottawa Senators continued their search for answers to inconsistent play at both ends of the ice. And exiting Sunday night’s game – a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes that dropped their record to 9-11-4 – the Sens are still looking.
The issues are clear: in each of Ottawa’s past nine losses, they’ve allowed at least four goals; in each of their past seven wins, they’ve allowed two goals or fewer. If the Sens play a run-and-gun game with their opponents, they usually regret it. And things began well in that regard Sunday, as they held the host Canes off the scoresheet and entered the second period leading 1-0.
But things fell apart for the visitors from there: Carolina scored three goals in a six-minute span of the second period and the Senators had no counterpunch available.
Ottawa managed 36 shots on net (more than their season average of 31.3), but surrendered 37 shots (also more than their season average of 35.8). And since goalie Robin Lehner was merely ordinary – while his counterpart Cam Ward was tremendous – the Sens had no chance.
This is not a good road team (5-5-2). But this isn’t a good home team (4-6-2), either. The Sens have no urgency to their game. They’re middling in nearly every sense – their power play is 15th overall in the NHL, their penalty kill 19th overall, their faceoff win percentage 13th overall – and, where last year’s injuries forced the remaining players to come together, this year’s team is healthier, but its members are more prone to wait for someone else to step up.
They don’t have much time to figure it out. The Flyers and Sens are tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference wild card race, but Philadelphia has two games in hand and the sixth-place Blue Jackets are just three points behind Ottawa with a game in hand. In other words, the Senators are teetering on the brink of full-on disaster – and forcing a mountainous task upon themselves during the final two-thirds of the regular-season.
A team that was one of the league’s most resilient last season needs to recapture that strength soon, or face the prospect of being tossed to the lions repeatedly during a long and painful winter.