It might only be mid-January but the Ottawa Senators are feeling some pressure to lock up a playoff spot.
With the Olympic break just three weeks away, many teams feel the need to be in a playoff position before the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
After 49 games the Senators (21-19-9, 51 points) are outside the playoff picture but a spot is within their grasp. Ottawa is just a point behind the eighth-place Columbus Blue Jackets heading into Monday’s action.
“The blahs of January and February that you usually have in a season don’t appear to be there this season,” Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. “Everyone seems to be very focused going in.
“The whole league is focused on (the Olympic break) so I think it makes for better hockey for everybody. The biggest thing is everyone wants to be in a better position coming out of the break.”
The players realize there’s a sense of urgency to secure as many points as possible in order to be in the best possible position before the break.
“It’s a lot of games in a short period of time,” said defenceman Erik Karlsson. “It just pushes things forward a bit I think.
“We’ve already played a lot games this year and it’s already starting to tighten up even though we’re just in January. We’ve got to start looking not too far ahead but still making sure we stay on pace to make the playoffs. We have to play with a little more urgency sometimes and every point right now counts a lot for us.”
With 10 games before the Olympic break — including eight on the road — the Senators have the opportunity to solidify their positioning but can’t afford to let opportunities slip away.
Ottawa dropped a 4-1 decision to the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon that cost them a chance to move into eighth.
“I don’t think we played as well as we had to play and they capitalized on chances,” said Senators captain Jason Spezza. “You learn from it, you do some video on it and then you park it and move on.”
Prior to that loss, Ottawa earned points in eight straight games and hadn’t lost in regulation since Dec. 27.
MacLean said there’s little to be gained from dwelling on the loss. He feels the Senators have played well enough of late that moving forward shouldn’t be a problem.
“We’ve been playing well since the first of December,” he said. “So it seems reasonable to expect to continue to play well whether we’re at home or on the road.”
The Senators visit the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night to kick off a four-game road trip. Ottawa is 10-8-4 away from home and has gone 3-0-1 in January.
“We’ve been playing good on the road so far for whatever reason that might be,” said Karlsson. “We have confidence that we’re still a good team and we have to try to get better and it starts in Washington.”
Washington lost 4-1 to the Rangers on Sunday and has struggled lately, going 2-5-3 in its last 10 games. Ottawa is 2-0 against the Capitals this season and has won five straight over them overall.
“I think we’ve done a good job of frustrating them,” said Spezza. “They have some top guys that if they get rolling it can be a long night.
“They’ve done it to us in the past. (Alex Ovechkin’s) had a hat trick and (Nicklas) Backstrom’s got going so it’s a matter of being hard on those guys and not letting the game be too easy for them.”
The Senators will likely be without forward Mark Stone on Tuesday night. Stone went down hard in practice Monday and as a precautionary measure was left back in Ottawa for further evaluation.
On Monday, the Senators recalled forward Stephane Da Costa from AHL Binghamton.
NOTES: Goalie Craig Anderson will start against Washington. Bobby Ryan didn’t practise Monday but will play Tuesday following a maintenance day . . . Vancouver coach John Tortorella faces NHL discipline for storming down the hallway towards the Calgary Flames dressing room following a first-period brawl in the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout win Saturday night. When asked if he’d ever go after another coach, MacLean joked “It’s too much work to get around the rink.”