OTTAWA - If the NHL rewarded effort with goals, the Ottawa Senators would be in good shape.
As it currently stands, however, their hard work isn’t paying off and their lack of success in front of the net means a lack of points in the standings.
"The only thing we can do is keep trying, trying as hard as you can," defenceman Erik Karlsson said Wednesday.
The Senators extended their winless slide to three games Tuesday night after a 2-1 shootout loss to Anaheim in a game in which Jonas Hiller proved almost impossible to beat despite 40 shots by the Senators.
"Their goalie played pretty well, he made some saves that maybe should have gone in and we hit the post a couple of times," Karlsson said. "As long as we keep working hard and doing our best to score, we’re going to have to score sometime."
That’s not a certainty given Ottawa’s season-long struggle to put the puck in the net.
Only Anaheim (49) and Atlanta (48) have played more games than the Senators (47), yet Ottawa’s 103 goals for ranks 29th in the NHL. The New Jersey Devils possess the league’s least-potent offence, with 90 goals through 45 games.
The Senators have on occasion been accused of not being tough enough or not working hard, but that hasn’t been the case recently.
On Tuesday, they played well enough to beat the Ducks. Instead, they wasted a solid performance from goaltender Brian Elliott and have just one win to show for the past 10 games, during which time the Senators have scored three or more goals just twice and Elliott has lost his last nine starts as a result. Their lone victory came when they put six past the New York Islanders to support rookie netminder Robin Lehner.
Over those 10 games, the Senators have outshot their opponent eight times and five times they’ve managed to record 35 shots or more. That should translate to at least a little better production, but it hasn’t.
"We’re not putting any of this on (Elliott’s) shoulders, we’ve got to score him some goals," coach Cory Clouston said in defence of his goaltender. "I’ve said it before—it must be very frustrating for him to play well and not get the offensive support."
The Senators' offence was punchless before No. 1 centre Jason Spezza was lost to injury as he and other offensive talents such as Daniel Alfredsson and Alex Kovalev have struggled all season.
While they have their share of detractors, with Kovalev (knee) and Spezza (shoulder) currently out injured, a bad situation has been made even worse over the past 10 games, during which Ottawa has been shut out twice and held to a single goal on another four occasions.
Kovalev skated on his own to test his sore knee Wednesday, but Clouston said it's unlikely he'll accompany the Senators to Philadelphia, where they'll face the Flyers on Thursday.
Spezza, meanwhile, is ahead of schedule in his recovery and is practising and shooting pucks lightly. Clouston said he could be back in the lineup after the all-star break at the end of the month.
Their absences have forced players not known for their offensive prowess to play unfamiliar roles and Ottawa’s lack of offensive talent is showing through on a nightly basis.
"If you lose a couple of your offensive guys that you rely heavily on, then all of a sudden the other guys who are more role players—it’s a little more easy for them to chip in offensively when the attention isn’t on them all of the time," Clouston said.
Even with a full lineup, the Senators aren’t loaded offensively, and their few talents have been underachieving compared to seasons past, which doesn’t make for flattering scoring statistics.
Alfredsson and Karlsson, both with 27 points, are the lowest-producing team scoring leaders in the NHL while only three players—Alfredsson, with 14, Mike Fisher, with 13, and Milan Michalek, with 10—have reached double digits in goals.
With the playoffs fading out of sight, the Senators can only cling to the positives—their effort in recent weeks—in the hopes of still getting something out of this season.
But until the goals start coming more regularly, the wins aren’t likely to follow.
"No one’s going to pack it in or quit here," forward Chris Kelly said. "We’ve got to push forward and we think we can get out of this. (Tuesday) night was an indication of how we want to play and eventually those pucks are going to start going in and we’re going to win those games 2-1 instead of being on the other side."