With the Ottawa Senators off to one of their worst starts in franchise history, you can feel a sense of urgency when they talk about this weekend's games against the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens.
"We just have to find a way to get a win here and we'll get some confidence from that," said head coach Cory Clouston following the Senators' practice yesterday at Scotiabank Place.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray added: "You've got to get a win and you've got to get a big performance out of a couple of individuals and, all of a sudden, you're a different looking team. I'm hoping that will be the case."
The Senators are 1-4-1 in their first six games and sit at the bottom of the league standings with eight teams ahead of them that have played fewer games. To say they are off to a "slow start" is being generous to a team that proclaimed only two weeks ago that the Northeast title was within their reach this season.
If they hope to live up to that lofty prediction, this weekend would be a good time for them to rebound as a team, first against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the HSBC arena, then at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
And it seems that the entire team is very aware of the importance of these two games.
"It's a big game," said forward Nick Foligno. "There's no way around it. We want to win and we need this win. I think we had a great week of practice and we worked hard on some things we needed to fix. I think the guys are in good spirits."
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "We go back to Buffalo now and we've turned seasons around in Buffalo before. But we're not in a situation where we can say 'we're okay, we can start slow and put on a good show down the stretch.' It doesn't work that way."
"We've got to turn it around as quick as we can. It's so tough to gain (ground) in the standings with the shootout and overtime points, so we would like to get back on a winning streak pretty quick."
Alfredsson is facing a big weekend for another reason as well. After scoring a power-play goal in Monday night’s 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he pushed his career NHL point total to 997. It is entirely possible that he could hit the 1,000 point milestone before the weekend is done. Will this serve as another source of inspiration for Alfredsson and the team in these two games? One can only hope.
Clouston was also positive about the teams past success against Buffalo at the HSBC.
"We have confidence there and that's the big thing," Clouston said yesterday. "We play well in that barn. And we get some good goaltending in there. I think Brian (Elliott) has a lot of confidence in that building and against that team."
Elliott's lifetime record against the Sabres is 8-0-0 with an impressive 1.87 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage and it would be a surprise to not see him between the pipes on Friday night despite being yanked in the second period on Monday in Pittsburgh.
As anxious as the team seems about turning the season around, there also seems to be a quiet understanding that the way to winning is staying focused and concentrating on returning to the basics and playing a simple game.
"We have to rely on simple structured hockey," said Clouston. "We have guys that care and now we have to make sure that intensity and that caring is channelled in the right direction. If you just work hard, it's not going to be good enough. You have to work hard and you have to work smart and you have to work within that system."
"We don't need to think about the past right now," added Senators defenceman Chris Campoli. "We need to think about Friday. One game at a time and if we get a win Friday, everything looks a little bit better and, hopefully, it snowballs in a positive way. That's the way we have to think now. We're still a loose group. We still believe in each other and we're still confident in our abilities. We just know that we've been through a bit of a tough stretch. We need to snap out of it and this weekend is the time, so we've really got to focus on that."
And centre Jason Spezza provides the final words of wisdom for the team to remember.
"We know (the Sabres) are good and we've had some good battles with them," said Spezza. "And we know they can embarrass you if you're not ready."
Let's hope this weekend is the start of a rebound for the Senators and not another team embarrassment.
Christopher Smith runs senspedia.com, an Ottawa Senators fan site.
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