OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators stumbled upon their first rough patch of the season this week when they lost back-to-back games for the first time this year.
Things got a little bumpier Friday when the suddenly slumping Senators learned they could be without captain and leading scorer Daniel Alfredsson for at least the next game.
Alfredsson, who's tied for second in the NHL in goals with 16 so far this year, suffered a groin pull in Thursday's 6-5 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The team didn't skate Friday and although Alfredsson didn't definitely rule himself out for Saturday's home game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Senators coach John Paddock effectively did.
"He's day-to-day and I don't think that day-to-day includes playing tomorrow," Paddock said.
Losing Alfredsson, whose 30 points rank fifth in league scoring, for any period of time would be a big blow to a team that's lost three of its past four contests and has just three wins in its past seven games after beginning the season with victories in 13 of 14 contests.
"We think that he's the best player in the league so far this year," Senators left-winger Dany Heatley said.
Alfredsson only missed five games last season, all because of a hip injury suffered last December. Without him, the Senators lost four of five.
And with losses to the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday and the Penguins on Thursday, Ottawa could use its talisman to stop its slide.
"Alfie plays 23-24 minutes, he kills penalties and does a lot for us," centre and Jason Spezza said. "He's part of why we go so well, he's a big part of it. We have to find a way to win games, or a game, without him."
Alfredsson is the second Ottawa star to suffer a groin injury this year. Spezza missed six games earlier this month with a similar complaint and, five games after returning, is now just getting back into the swing of things.
He scored just his second and third goals of the season in Thursday's 6-5 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I don't know what it is, if it's the ice or whatever," Spezza said. "Groin (injuries) are a frustrating thing."
Alfredsson will be 35 in December, and reporters raised the question of his heavy workload, but the native of Gothenburg, Sweden, dismissed any suggestions that it could be taking its toll on him.
"I like it, there's no question," he said. "I really enjoy playing a lot and that's why you work out hard in the summer."
The Senators will be facing the Flyers for the first time since prospect Steve Downie received a 20-game suspension for a vicious hit on Ottawa centre Dean McAmmond in the pre-season.
With Downie not on the Flyers' roster, however, any idea of retribution wasn't even discussed Friday. The Senators are more concerned with fighting to turn things around.
"Obviously, we're not playing the way that we can the last few games," Heatley said. "I think it all leads to our neutral-zone play, getting pucks in, not turning pucks over."
All four of Ottawa's recent losses have come against teams with sub-.500 records. Against the Penguins, they twice threw away two-goal leads.
Martin Gerber is scheduled to start in goal against the Flyers.
"There's a lot of parity in the games and you're not going to win every time, but guys aren't happy about it," Spezza said.
Paddock, however, is confident the Senators will rebound. They've only lost three games in a row once since Alfredsson was out last December.
"This is a game of hockey, there are two teams out there," Paddock said. "I don't think it's anything much else.
"I'm not worried about trends," he added. "We're in good shape in the standings and I think our players will respond to adversity."