Senators need to focus on their play, not the playoffs, though West Coast wins help

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Perspective is everything. 

Before this West Coast swing of the Ottawa Senators, I figured they needed to win three of four to begin to turn their season around. Consider the viewpoint before they left: a 2-8-1 record in their previous 11 games, punctuated by a seven-game losing streak from Oct. 27 to Nov. 10. 

The Senators didn’t get their three victories. And after dropping their first two games out West, to San Jose and the Vegas Knights, things could not have looked more bleak. They were now two for their past 13 games. 

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But in a what-have-you-done-lately business, the Sens finished the trip in style – handling the last-place Anaheim Ducks 5-1 Friday and then grinding out a 3-2 overtime win against the L.A. Kings on Sunday night. A SoCal sweep.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. At 8-12-1 and still in last place in the Atlantic Division, Ottawa has some work to do to crawl back to the pack, never mind the playoff race. That doesn’t erase the good vibes of a modest two-game winning streak, which was no small feat after a week on the road. 

“Gutsy effort from the fellows,” said head coach D.J. Smith. “(After) starting the trip 0-2, I thought we checked our way to a victory. The penalty kill gave up a couple but won us the game the other night (vs Anaheim). I just thought top to bottom, that’s the way we have to play every night to give us a chance.”

The Senators hounded the Kings most of the night and were the better team five-on-five. 

Claude Giroux, Ottawa’s prized free-agent signing in the off-season, played the role of overtime hero, winning the draw and scoring on a breakaway just 20 seconds into the extra period. He was able to laugh about nearly turning the puck over after winning that draw because this is what happens in victory — the ability to laugh at mistakes that aren’t costly. 

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Underlying numbers have suggested the Senators should be better than their record, and should have been scoring more. 

To see Alex DeBrincat — the other offensive acquisition — sneak a power-play shot past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick for his sixth of the season was a handy symbol of the Sens’ fortunes changing. DeBrincat, a consistent 40-goal scorer in his young career, has missed a lot of opportunities like that early on. 

When he called the goal “pretty lucky” because he didn’t get all of it, fair enough. He’s been rather unlucky until now. Things do balance out over the course of an 82-game season, which the Sens are now one-quarter of the way through. 

One of the aspects of DeBrincat’s game we have come to appreciate is his tenacity. He is willing to pursue pucks and the Senators did that in spades. 

“The way we play makes it hard for them to come into the zone to make plays,” DeBrincat said. “I thought we did a really good job of shutting them down and not giving them too many chances.

“If we keep playing this way we’re going to get some wins,” DeBrincat said. “We’ve just got to trust the process and keep battling every day … put the puck in the net, too.” 

No one was more pleased with the victory and the manner of it than the beleaguered head coach. 

 “We’ve got to hang our hat on our forecheck,” Smith said. He always wants his forwards forcing turnovers and back checking. He could sense his team was in this one early on, and able to hang in there when the Kings tied the game late in the second period with their second power-play goal of the night. 

“The bench was great,” Smith said. “Guys wanted this. And finally we get rewarded.” 

The Senators know they have to be better defensively than they have been at times. It certainly helps to have defenceman Thomas Chabot back from his concussion and Artem Zub in fine form again after missing several games due to injury. There is better balance now and less pressure on rookie star D-man Jake Sanderson. 

Goaltender Cam Talbot made some big stops when he needed to and the effort in front of him was pretty consistent. 

“We played a hard game, we want to be a hard team to play against,” Giroux said, echoing his head coach’s typical mantra. “Especially five-on-five, that’s what we did. We stayed with the program, the structure we wanted and that was one of our best efforts.”

Giroux added that the Sens have played games like this and not followed it up. That will be the challenge now, with a tough stretch of games coming up. The New York Rangers, fresh off a blown lead to the St. Louis Blues, are in Ottawa Wednesday and the Sens have a return date at the MSG on Friday. Then, the Sharks are at the CTC Saturday with games the following week against L.A., Dallas, and Nashville. 

 Big picture, the playoff race remains a long way off. But who cares?

The Senators need to forget about the mathematics of the 61-game challenge to contend and just play to their capabilities to get back to .500. The overall picture would look a lot brighter from that vantage point. 

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