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Struggling Senators searching for answers as slim playoff hopes fade

OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators can't seem to pinpoint what has caused their recent struggles during a slump that has likely taken them out of the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With victories in just two of their last nine games, the Senators (28-27-13) were seven points behind Columbus with 14 games remaining.

Entering Wednesday night's games, the Blue Jackets held the final wild-card spot with 76 points. Ottawa would need to leapfrog several teams in order to make the eight-team cut for the post-season in the East.

Things completely unravelled for the Senators on Tuesday night when they dropped an embarrassing 8-4 decision to the New York Rangers on home ice.

"We're searching for answers," captain Jason Spezza said Wednesday after practice. "We don't know either. You come to the rink, you work and we're doing something wrong for sure."

Clarke MacArthur was blunt in his assessment of the team's current situation.

"We put ourselves here first of all," said MacArthur. "You can't look outside of this room. We've set the stones here to the path we're on. If we don't want to compete then this is what's going to happen."

The fact the Senators are in this predicament isn't overly surprising since they have been inconsistent over the entire season.

"Until we learn to play a full 60 or play a smart 60 and get some wins and get some confidence then you're going to deal with this," MacArthur said. "The learning curve is a tough curve."

Ottawa's longest winning streak was a four-gamer in late December. The Sens won three straight in early November but they haven't won back-to-back games since Feb. 6.

MacArthur said the team has a lot to prove in these last 14 games.

"There's something called pride," he said. "For the people buying tickets to watch these games and just for yourself to go home and be able to sleep at night we've got to do a better job of emptying the tank. You empty the tank every night at least you can go home and have some respect.

"We have a lot of respect to earn back."

Coming out of the Olympic break the Senators were just one point out of the final wild-card spot, but failed to perform when it counted most. It hasn't helped that goaltender Craig Anderson has missed the past three games.

He was injured March 10 against Nashville when he was hit by a Shea Weber slapshot. Anderson also collided with Milan Michalek later in the game.

He took part in the full practice Wednesday, but will not be available for Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Robin Lehner has been mediocre during Anderson's absence, allowing 13 goals during the three-game stretch.

Lehner said the players will stand by one another as they try to turn things around.

"We have to play for each other a lot harder than we are," he said. "We've got to take responsibility and take pride in all the little things because that's missing right now."

Coach Paul MacLean said the team has to try to get better every day.

"We haven't improved at the level that we certainly felt we would for whatever the factors are, but I know one thing is we have to keep working at it."

Notes: Goaltender Nathan Lawson is nursing a lower-body injury so the Senators have recalled netminder Andrew Hammond from Binghamton to serve as a backup for Thursday's game.

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