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Hockey Senators seeking greater consistency after last season’s race to the playoffs

Ottawa Senators’ Bobby Ryan is entering the first year of a seven-year contract extension and will be expected to produce on a regular basis as the team’s highest paid player.

Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports

The Ottawa Senators were the hottest team in the NHL down the stretch last season, winning 23 of their last 31 games to earn a berth in the playoffs.

This year's team would prefer to make a return to the postseason under less duress.

The Senators believe they can make things much easier on themselves if they get off to a solid start, something that eluded them last season.

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While a good start would be nice, the Senators will need to play with greater consistency. A few things need to fall into place for that to happen.

Last season the Senators had five 20-goal scorers, but surprisingly Bobby Ryan wasn't one of them.

The Senators will need youngsters Mike Hoffman (27 goals), Mark Stone (26 goals) and Mika Zibanejad (20) to be as good, if not better, if they hope to have any success.

"It was a great end to my year last year and I think if you look at it everyone wants to hit the ground running and try and get off to as good a start as they can," said Stone, who was red-hot in the second half of last season with 47 points in 46 games. "I would like to produce on a daily basis. I'm going to try and improve on what I did last year and I think there's a lot of guys in the locker room that are looking to do the same."

Ryan is entering the first of a $50.75-million (all currency U.S.), seven-year contract extension and, as the highest paid player, will be expected to produce on a regular basis.

The Senators can ill afford Ryan going into an extended goal-scoring drought like he did last season, when he scored just once in Ottawa's last 20 games and finished the year with 18 goals.

"If our team is going to reach its ceiling, Bobby Ryan has to be one of our best players start to finish," Senators head coach Dave Cameron said.

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Ryan watched every one of those 20 games multiple times in an effort to try to find what was going wrong. In many ways it was driving the 28-year-old crazy, but he says he's got past it and is ready for a fresh start.

"It's a new season. I've completely flushed it. I've decided it's over with and I can't do anything about it and I've changed my attitude towards this year and I'm going to start the way I have every other year."

Perhaps the only other player under as much scrutiny as Ryan will be Craig Anderson.

The Senators goaltender is among the league's best when he's healthy, but therein lies the problem. Anderson has missed considerable time because of injury over his four-plus years in Ottawa.

Should Anderson falter, the Senators will turn to Andrew Hammond, who officially became the backup after Robin Lehner was traded to the Buffalo Sabres during the off-season.

Hammond had an exceptional NHL debut last season going 20-1-2 and was instrumental in getting the Senators to the playoffs. He was rewarded with a three-year $4.05-million contract extension.

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The 27-year-old Hammond says he plans on being ready whenever the opportunity arises, but in the meantime will do his best to push and support Anderson.

"I think looking forward it's more about taking that next step forward rather than looking back on what happened last year and trying to improve," Hammond said. "I believe you have to work harder to prove [the contract] was deserved and that was the approach I took this summer was rather than sitting back and hanging on your laurels to kind of push and find another gear and I think I was able to do that."

Defensively the Senators will once again count on captain Erik Karlsson and partner Marc Methot who carry the brunt of the workload, while it appears Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch will form the second pairing.

The biggest question on the blueline will be whether Jared Cowen can play himself back into Ottawa's top six with Mark Borowiecki. With veteran Chris Phillips sidelined by a back injury Cowen may have bought himself some time, but should he falter Cameron has shown he won't think twice about giving another player an opportunity to step up.

Last year, the Senators were 32-15-8 under Cameron after he took over from the fired Paul MacLean. The 57-year-old brought energy and excitement to the team, but Cameron knows he'll face a greater number of challenges this season.

"There's lots of pressure in winning and losing and I understand all that, but I'm much better at handling that," Cameron said. "There's going to be heat the second we lose a couple of games, you're going to get all that. I understand all that. I handle it pretty good."

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