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Inconsistent Senators struggling to find their identity this season

Ottawa Senators' Bobby Ryan celebrates a third period goal with teammates Colin Greening, left, and Jared Cowe, right, against the Boston Bruins in NHL hockey action in Ottawa on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The Senators defeated the Bruins 4-2. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Ottawa Senators' Bobby Ryan celebrates a third period goal with teammates Colin Greening, left, and Jared Cowe, right, against the Boston Bruins in NHL hockey action in Ottawa on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The Senators defeated the Bruins 4-2. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - After 20 games, the inconsistent Ottawa Senators are still struggling to find their identity.

When they score first, the Senators have a 5-0-1 record, but when they give up the first goal, they are a disappointing 3-8-3.

"We'll have some bright flashes, we'll look good for a couple games and win a couple of games and then I don't know," said Zack Smith. "It's getting a little frustrating. There's still a lot of games left, but at the same time you want to establish an identity and find some consistency in our games."

Two years ago, the Senators were known for their ability to come back in games, often in the final minute. Last year they showed resiliency advancing to the second round of the playoffs despite playing most of the season without Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson.

For whatever reason, this year's group hasn't shown the same ability to overcome adversity, especially after giving up the first goal.

"Maybe we're waiting around at the start of games to see what other teams are doing," said Marc Methot. "I don't think we're really initiating the play the way that we probably should be, especially here at home with our fans behind us. We seem to be getting down on ourselves and that's contagious and that happens when you start losing games. It's one of those things that we just have to work our way out of."

Senators coach Paul MacLean believes the team would see some overall improvement if they could just find a way to spend less time in their own end.

"We play in our end all the time and that's still to me the biggest issue we have is our lack of execution and we play too much in our end," MacLean said.

MacLean also talked of the importance of a shift after a goal and admitted the Senators haven't been good at all. Too often the team has been guilty of turnovers and poor defensive coverage.

"That eats away at your confidence and your mental strength," said MacLean.

Following a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, Senators coach Paul MacLean admitted all aspects of the team's preparation would be examined, but Spezza believes it's more an issue of mental preparation.

"We have to make sure we're mentally prepared to have that urgency that we seem to be lacking," said the Sens captain. "We have big emotional games, big emotional wins and then we follow them up with games where we look like we lack a little bit of jump."

Spezza admitted there are games that are easy to get up for and then there are those that require a greater awareness.

And while it's easy to say that for the most part this is the same group of players from the past two seasons those who are new don't have a lot of experience to draw from.

"I think we might be showing that we're a little bit of an inexperienced team maybe with some of the expectations," said Spezza. "Experience comes with knowing that certain games you need different types of urgency and different types of starts and different approaches to the game."

Spezza, along with alternate captains Chris Phillips and Chris Neil will be looked upon to ensure everyone is ready to play.

"We're going to lean on them heavy, if we haven't already, we're going to make some demands of them," said MacLean. "As individuals do a better job of getting themselves prepared and getting the team prepared to play."

On Tuesday, the Senators take on the Philadelphia Flyers, who just one week ago shut out the Senators 5-0 in Ottawa.

Spezza says this is exactly the kind of game the team needs to be properly prepared for, especially considering what happened last week.

"It should have us on notice that we can get licked if we don't show up," he said. "If you thought it was going to be an easier game or a different game because of what their record is that 5-0 game shows us that we better be ready to go into that rink (Tuesday)."

After last year's success, there's no doubt expectations for this team were high and Smith can't help but wonder if that's actually been part of the problem.

"Maybe we thought we were going to be that much better of a team and we wouldn't have to play the team game or work quite as hard," said Smith. "If that's the case well we've been proven wrong. You still have to work hard and work as a team…for some people maybe we overachieved (last year), but I think this year we're definitely underachieving to this point."

Notes: Phillips was not at practice due to the flu, but will travel with the team to Philadelphia and is expected to play Tuesday. No decision was made on Tuesday's starting goaltender. Neil will play his 800th career game Tuesday night. He has spent his entire career with the Senators.

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