General manager Bryan Murray was proclaiming that a first place finish in the Northeast was within their reach, the fans were looking forward to seeing the Leafs spanked in the Battle of Ontario, and the media was proclaiming this to be a possible rebound season for Alexei Kovalev and Jason Spezza and a breakout year for Nick Foligno and Peter Regin.
Three weeks later, what has gone wrong?
Some are looking at our aging veterans and saying that the team is simply too old to compete. With an average age of 28.27, the Senators are the seventh oldest team in the league. Yet Calgary and Detroit are the two oldest teams, and both are sitting comfortably in the top four in the Western Conference. No one is proclaiming them too old to play the game.
If it's not the lack of youth causing the Senators' downward spiral, what is it then?
"It’s not just one thing," said centre Chris Kelly following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. "If it was one thing, you could address it. But it seems to be all parts of our game. Obviously, getting the puck to the net and creating offensive opportunities and taking care of our own end and getting outworked at times.”
That seems to be the heart of the matter.
The Senators don't shoot enough, they are sloppy on defence and they haven't played consistently for 60 minutes once this year yet.
In three games out of eight they have been held to fewer than 20 shots on goals, and six times this year they have scored a goal only to allow the opposing team to take back the momentum and score the follow-up goal. Add to this that they have been outscored 10-3 in the first period, and some of this slump starts to make sense.
They are being lazy and inconsistent.
Coach Cory Clouston seems to think that this lack of effort and consistency stems from a lack of confidence.
"Today was all about trying to build (the confidence) back up," Clouston said after Monday's practice. "Today was all about showing the guys where they worked hard, where they created the turnovers, where they did what we want them to do. It was also about what we didn’t do after that. Where we didn’t follow through with the structured play. It’s one thing working hard to come back and create the turnovers, but you have to be able to get on the attack."
Defenceman Chris Phillips disagrees somewhat: "I think the important word for us is consistency and we just have to do that for a full 60 minutes. It’s not the confidence to wonder if we can...because we have. It’s about maintaining that, doing it for the full 60 minutes, shift by shift, and night in and night out."
After three weeks of shoddy play, however, many are growing tired of these clichéd answers: We have to build confidence; one shift at a time; play as a team; and getting back to basics.
Perhaps the time for talk is over. Perhaps this slump is causing everyone on the team and in the media to think too much. Perhaps the team just needs to go out there and play.
As they say, actions speak louder than words.
Christopher Smith runs senspedia.com, an Ottawa Senators fan site.