The Ottawa Senators' power play has coach Cory Clouston scratching his head, and not just because it hasn't been very good this season.
After the Senators got through a game without receiving so much as a single power-play opportunity for the third time this year, Clouston was left wondering why his team can't seem to get some calls from the NHL's referees.
"I have no idea why, I honestly don't," he said Wednesday, hours after the Senators were shut out 2-0 at home by Boston in a game in which the Bruins enjoyed three man advantages to Ottawa's zero. "To me, it's a little disrespectful to the players because they are working hard, they are doing the things they should be doing (to draw penalties) and they come to the bench and they're just frustrated.
"They don't know why that wasn't a call or why it wasn't made. It's tough to know what to tell them."
The Senators also failed to draw any power-play chances against the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 10 and the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 25. They've managed to win just one of those games, needing a shootout to beat the Oilers.
It's not like it's a case of home cooking in favour of the opposition, either. Two of those three games have been at Scotiabank Place. By comparison, Ottawa's opponents have never gotten through a game without at least one opportunity with the man advantage.
Over the entire 2008-'09 regular season, the Senators never played in a game without receiving at least one power play and on only one occasion did their opponents fail to earn a chance.
By comparison, the Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom the Senators are on the road to face Wednesday, have yet to play in a game this year in which either team hasn't gone on the power play at least once.
Clouston said the Senators reviewed the footage from Tuesday's game and still can't figure out the lack of calls in favour of his team.
"Going over the game, probably four (chances) per team would have been right," he said. "They definitely missed one on us. ... But I think there were three or four opportunities for us to go on the power play.
"We can't do anything about it right now. We've just got to work harder and maybe try and draw more penalties next game."
Entering Tuesday's games, the Senators are the 24th most-penalized team, averaging 14.4 minutes per game. They've been shorthanded 151 times in 36 games, which was the 10th most in the league.
Meanwhile, they're 26th in the number of power-play chances received with 127 opportunities.
Only Calgary and Chicago, with 123 chances in 35 and 34 games, respectively, Boston, with 122 chances in 35 games, and Montreal, with 113 chances in 38 games, have gone on the power play less.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray brought the subject up with referee Kerry Fraser, the NHL's most senior on-ice official, following the Nov. 25 game at New Jersey. He was also on the Tuesday morning, when he said he called director of officiating Terry Gregson to voice his feelings.
When the subject was raised following the Devils game in late November, it was suggested that the Senators whined or complained too much from the bench and the tactic was working against them.
Clouston, whose team ranks only 25th in the NHL with a success rate of 16.5 per cent on the power play, suggests otherwise.
"I don't know if we've had an unsportsmanlike misconduct from chirping from the bench or from the players," he said. "If I was getting misconducts or showing up officials, then absolutely I would need to change my ways and that hasn't happened.
"Of course in the heat of the battle some things are said, but our team is not a disrespectful team. We're a team that goes out and works hard most nights. We're not a dirty team, so that has nothing to do with anything."
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson was more diplomatic when asked if he felt Ottawa was being jobbed.
"Even if it was, and I'm not saying there is anything against us, I wouldn't say it," he said before the Senators left for Pittsburgh. "We just have to do a better job and do that extra effort to draw more penalties.
"I can't see that they would conspire against us. That doesn't make sense."
Against the Penguins, the Senators should get a boost as they expect to have both starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire and rugged right-winger Chris Neil back in the lineup after lengthy absences.
Leclaire hasn't dressed since suffering a broken cheekbone after being struck by an errant puck while sitting on the bench as the backup in a Nov. 26 game against Columbus. Before that, a lower-body injury kept him out for a couple of games prior to that.
Neil has been out since that Nov. 25 loss at New Jersey with a knee injury. Right-winger Shean Donovan is also close to returning from a knee injury.
The Senators demoted forward Josh Hennessy and goalie Mike Brodeur to Binghamton of the AHL on Tuesday to make room in the lineup.
"I'm really excited, especially getting the chance before Christmas," said Leclaire, who could start against the Penguins. "It's a long time for me. (The injury) was a freak thing and I've just got to put it behind me.
"It might take a game or two just to feel normal."