The Hamburgler. His 20-1-2 record. The flying McDonald’s burgers at every home game. The whole lot of it was pixie dust.
Or was it?
This morning, after a steady, opportunistic 4-1 win over the hapless, hopeless Edmonton Oilers, the Senators are owners of their second four-game winning streak of the season. So, who knows? Maybe they can duplicate their 24-4-4 run at the end of the 2015-16 campaign, and become Canada’s Team — our only playoff contender.
“Winning’s fun,” smiled Curtis Lazar. “Confidence is a scary thing. Momentum, as we saw last year…”
The standard refrain is that a hot streak like the one the Sens went on the season before is exactly that — a streak. Like a meteor, you see it once and then it’s gone. You never see the same meteor twice, right?
But in sports there is value in having been somewhere before. Most of these players were part of that 24-4-4 run that vaulted Ottawa into the playoffs last spring. Needing something similar 12 months later, this group doesn’t have far to go to recall the magic.
“It’s that mental side of the game. We know what it takes,” Lazar allowed. “It was kind of a miracle run last year, and a streak like that is never going to be done again. We know that.
“But the fact of the matter is, we are out of this [playoff] picture, and we have to win games to try and claw our way back. Hopefully we get some help from other teams, and let’s see what happens.”
As we speak, the Senators have jumped past the Philadelphia Flyers and sit within four points of a playoff spot. There are three teams yet to be passed however, and Philly has a couple of games in hand.
Experience tells us these mountains seldom get climbed. Chris Neil’s been around. He knows that.
“Coming into camp, we knew that run was unbelievable. To redo that again was a long shot,” the veteran Sens winger said. “We were on a high at the end of last year, the way we finished, but we weren’t under the expectation we were going to go 82-0.”
Sadly, they didn’t come close. Goaltender Andrew Hammond turned out to be a one-hit wonder, a decent backup who went on a fabulous run. Mark Stone, who scored so many clutch goals a year ago, scored his 19th goal Tuesday night in Edmonton, but that has come with a team-worst minus-13 rating. He’s a very good young player, but not yet the complete package.
Even the ultra-productive Erik Karlsson, who is back in his usual spot as a Calder candidate, is having a 65-point season, but he’s only a plus-4, which means for the 42 even-strength goals he’s been part of, there have been 38 scored against Ottawa when he’s on the ice.
“Our five-on-five minutes,” began Neil. “We’ve got to be harder five-on-five. You can’t just wait for your opportunity on the power play to win games. You’ve got to be simple at the blue-lines … and we’re playing in our end far too much.”
The mantra here is no different than in any other NHL dressing room: Do the little things right; don’t turn pucks over; make the smart, simple play.
Ottawa can beat you when it does those things, and it has crushed an Oilers team that was simply a hot mess Tuesday, but there is a reason the Sens are on the outside looking in with 20 games to play. They haven’t been this good often enough this season.
“Unfortunately we put ourselves in this situation,” Karlsson said. “We don’t really talk about it too much. We know what we have to do to get back into the playoff race. I think we’re playing better hockey now than we have for the past two months.”
The addition of Dion Phaneuf helps, giving Ottawa two very solid defensive pairings with the all-star Karlsson logging his 29 minutes per night. That should help the Senators find the consistency they’ve been chasing.
“If we knew the answer to that, every team would play like the Washington Capitals and win every game,” Karlsson said. “We’ve been struggling with that, trying to find the game we need to be successful. We haven’t found a way to get everybody to play well at the same time, for an extended period of time.
“I don’t know how many games we won last year by one goal. It was just going our way, and we got that feeling in here… We were feeling good, playing good hockey.”
Suddenly, the Sens are feeling that way again.
They couldn’t… Could they?