How the Ottawa Senators were tricked by the 'pesky Sens'

Coming off an unlikely playoff run, the Ottawa Senators increased their skill level and saw several injured players return to health. Add up those factors and you'd expect a playoff run, but the team has been humbled this season.

Unlikely success paired with returning stars, new players saw Sens take foot off the pedal

Colin Greening's overtime winning goal to beat the Penguins, 2-1, in Game 3 of last year's second round served as a reward for the team's peskiness. This year's team hasn't shown the same ability to battle through adversity. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

When the Ottawa Senators receive their season-end report card, many aspects will “need improvement”.

Prime among them is the team’s mental strength.

The problem was quite evident over the past week. First the Senators blew a three-goal lead in Montreal in under four minutes, before losing in overtime. Then on Tuesday, a one-goal lead suddenly turned into a three-goal deficit in just over half a period.

It’s unsettling, and such drastic shipwrecks are at least partially caused by severe brain cramps.

On Wednesday, forward Clarke MacArthur pointed to another, larger mental error that might explain the inconsistency that’s plagued Ottawa throughout the season.

“Maybe we all thought it was going to be a little easier because they did such a great job without the top guys (last year),” opined MacArthur.

“(But) this league will humble you very quickly.”

Young team surprised by struggles

And humbled they have been, with their playoff hopes fading fast.

Ottawa Senators center Kyle Turris, left, celebrates his second-period goal with Clarke MacArthur against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 16. That tandem has been the team's most successful this season. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
MacArthur didn’t play in Ottawa last year — he donned the jersey of the rival Toronto Maple Leafs — but he knew the Senators well by facing off against them four times.

That's why he chose to sign in Ottawa, but the type of team MacArthur thought he was joining, and the style fans came accustomed to, has been absent. Ironically, those hard working “pesky Sensnow lack the necessary work ethic, according to MacArthur.

“If we don’t want to compete, this is what’s going to happen,” MacArthur said, referring to the 8-4 drubbing at the hands of the New York Rangers.

“The work ethic, period to period, has to be better.”

The underdog Senators were forced to grind their way to the second round of the playoffs last year without many key guys. Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and Milan Michalek missed a combined 140 regular season games in the lockout-shortened 48-game season. Starting goalie Craig Anderson also missed some time.

Who are the Ottawa Senators?

Let's fast forward to this year. With their top centre back, their world-class defenceman recovered from a severe leg injury and another young defenceman, Cowen, back from serious hip surgery, the team was ready to go with the addition of MacArthur and Bobby Ryan. Notwithstanding the departure of the team's captain and leader for the past 13 seasons.

But unlike last year, the 2013-14 Ottawa Senators haven't found an identity. Those young players who led the way last year have struggled and the new leadership group hasn't met expectations. Colin Greening and Patrick Wiercioch are chief among the underachievers.

Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza has spent his entire career with the team, but this year has been one of the toughest years as he's taken over the captaincy from Daniel Alfredsson. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
This journey has been anything but easy.

The final 13 games of the season, whether it’s a playoff push or a tryout for next season, will indicate what direction this team takes.

Next season will also provide a glimpse of the franchise's future. MacArthur, Spezza, Ryan, Craig Anderson, Marc Methot and Erik Condra are all set to be unrestricted free agents in 2015.

The time is now to convince those players, and the rest of the NHL, Ottawa can be a mentally strong group that resembles the peskiness of the past.

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Jamie Long is a digital journalist, producer and editor with CBC Ottawa. You can reach him at