From the very start of the regular season, the Ottawa Senators have been dealing with adversity.
With just 28 games remaining, nothing seems to have changed.
The rebuilding team from the nation's capital has proven many so-called experts wrong up to this point, holding down a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
But the Senators, who many picked to finish last in the entire NHL, know the only way they'll really prove anything is by getting into the postseason. The club sits sixth in the East heading into Wednesday's games, however all the teams chasing them have games in hand.
Losers of their last four, the Senators know they can ill afford any kind of lengthy losing streak without potentially paying for it in April.
“I think we know what we're up against,” forward Nick Foligno said Wednesday. “We understand what the stakes are and that we need to continue to win games, but we're not far off. We just have to stay confident and positive.”
Tuesday night was the perfect example of what the Senators cannot do. They took a 3-1 lead over the Boston Bruins only to eventually give it away in 4-3 loss.
“I thought that (Tuesday) we self-destructed,” coach Paul MacLean said. “It's not that Boston did anything different to win the game. They did the same thing the whole game, but they did it longer and harder than we did.”
Prior to this losing streak, the Senators hadn't dropped consecutive games in regulation since November, a fact that MacLean says is allowing his players to deal with this current streak with calm rather than panic.
“We have some experience in facing adversity and coming back from it,” he said. “We also understand that over an 82-game schedule you're going to have times when with the way that our team is learning and building that there's going to be times when it goes like that.”
As a group, the players remain confident and gain strength from the adversity they faced early in the season when they dealt with two losing streaks only to then turn around and put a string of victories together. Ottawa went 1-5 to open the season and then went 6-0.
“Just how we've evolved this whole season is going to help us at this point and believing in what we're doing,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “We need to be mentally tougher throughout 60 minutes to make life easier on ourselves and if we do that and keep the work ethic we've had we'll come through this.”
While the Senators are well aware that they're going to be chased the team feels the schedule plays in their favour down the stretch.
With just 12 games in February, eight of them at home, the team will finally get some much-needed practice time.
“Practice is a big part of our game,” MacLean said. “It's a big part of building our work ethic and our foundation ... we have to take advantage of it.”
One of the things MacLean has stressed this season is to not look too far ahead and while the Senators are trying to keep things one game at a time they can't help but keep an eye on the standings.
“We're right in the thick of things, we're right in the cluster,” Jason Spezza said. “There's probably five or six teams that we're going to be battling for those last three or four spots. You want to win as many games as you can as soon as you can to put yourself in a comfortable position, but I don't think anybody's going to be comfortable until there's maybe two or three games remaining.”
Notes: D Chris Phillips skipped practice in order to rest as he took a shot in the leg during the game against Boston Tuesday. ... Alfredsson says he still hasn't completely come down from the high of the all-star game and even said the excitement from the weekend gave him more energy for the final stretch. ... MacLean said there's a good chance D Brian Lee might be ready to return to the lineup in one of the two games this weekend, but that C Jesse Winchester isn't likely to return any time soon.