Time for Senators to turn season around | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaTime for Senators to turn season around

Posted: Saturday, December 7, 2013 | 04:26 PM

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Goaltender Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators has been off his game lately. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) Goaltender Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators has been off his game lately. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

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The Ottawa Senators are seven points out of a playoff spot, which has been an almost insurmountable hill to climb at this time of the year, writes Tim Wharnsby.

Seven points is what separates the struggling Ottawa Senators from a playoff spot in the East. It doesn't seem like much of a distance to travel, especially with 53 games remaining in the season.

But seven points, at this stage of the NHL year, has been an almost insurmountable hill to climb. Since the NHL adopted shootouts in 2005, only one team has overcome a seven-point deficit after play on Dec. 6 to make the playoffs.

That team was the 2007-08 Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin and his teammates were a whopping 10 points out of the playoffs after a sloppy 9-16-2 start, but a 34-15-6 finish pushed them ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and into top spot in the weak Southeast Division.

The 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres authored the next best comeback story. They were six points out of a playoff spot after Dec. 6, but a 32-16-7 finish propelled them into the postseason.

So if the Senators need some inspiration to skate back into the playoff picture they have some precedence to ponder.

The point total for the final playoff spot in the East has ranged between 88 and 94 points and has averaged 92 points in the past eight seasons. That means the Senators need to check in with about 66 points in their final 53 games.

Need to win at home

A win at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday evening (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET) would be a good start and put a smile on the face of Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray, who turned 71 earlier this week. The Maple Leafs are the club that currently has a lock on the final playoff spot in the East.

But part of what has ailed the Senators so far this season has been their play at home. They have gone 4-8-2 at the Canadian Tire Centre. Only the Sabres (3-12-1) and the Edmonton Oilers (4-9-0) have worse home records.

The Senators play 11 of their next 14 games at home, so it's time to pick up their play in front of their restless fans.

That the Paul MacLean-coached Senators find themselves in this position is curious. They were the only Canadian team to advance to the second round of the playoffs last year and they made the playoffs despite injuries to key players like Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek and goalie Craig Anderson a year ago. Only the Detroit Red Wings lost more man-games to injury last season.

Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson to free agency and the Sens certainly miss his consistency and leadership. But there is still a strong leadership group in Ottawa with Spezza, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil and Anderson.

Spezza replaced Alfredsson as captain and has struggled after a good start. He has scored just three times in the last 20 games and his plus-minus of minus-nine has been a concern.

But Spezza's reduced production and poor defensive play haven't been the Senators only problems. Michalek has only four goals and has a team-worst minus-13.

Anderson has been off his game, too. But the team, as a group, have been horrible defensively in front of him. They yield way too many odd-man rushes. They have been messy in their own end.

They have given up 34.4 shots a game. That's three more shots than last season when Ottawa was known as the pesky Sens. Only Toronto (36.6), Buffalo (35) and Washington (35) have surrendered more shots per game this fall.

Meanwhile, Bobby Ryan (14 goals, 26 points) and Clarke MacArthur (eight goals, 22 points) have come in and produced. But as you can see bright spots have not been in abundance this season. Now they have to make history in order to make the playoffs.

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