Sea­son of sur­prise

Sen­a­tors de­fy­ing crit­ics so far

Ottawa Citizen - - HOCKEY - ALLEN PANZ­ERI

VAN­COU­VER • Af­ter 20 games, the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors are one of the Na­tional Hockey League’s pleas­ant sur­prises this sea­son.

So far, they’ve proved wrong the crit­ics (this one in­cluded) who picked them to fin­ish well out of play­off po­si­tion in the Eastern Con­fer­ence.

In the end, that’s where they could fin­ish, prov­ing ev­ery­one right, but on Saturday they were in the No. 8 po­si­tion in the East and the play­ers were feel­ing good about them­selves.

“I think we had higher ex­pec­ta­tions of our­selves than other peo­ple had for us,” cen­tre Jason Spezza said. “We knew it wasn’t go­ing to be too easy to score goals, but we knew that we were go­ing to have good goal­tend­ing and good spe­cial teams. We feel like there’s no rea­son we can’t com­pete ev­ery night.

“It wasn’t go­ing to be easy, but we have a hard-work­ing group, a group that has bought in. I don’t feel like we’re ever out of games, ex­cept for those first cou­ple early on.

“That’s what we’re try­ing to do, hang around and take one game at a time. It’s a cliché, but that’s how we have to ap­proach it.”

Goalie Craig An­der­son pointed to two early beat­ings — 7-1 by the Colorado Avalanche and 7-2 by the Philadel­phia Fly­ers, both on home ice — that helped lead to a turn­around.

He re­called go­ing through a sim­i­lar mo­ment in Colorado when the Van­cou­ver Canucks — tonight’s op­po­nent at Rogers Arena — came in and blew out the Avalanche.

“Some­times you need a boot for a cou­ple of games to kind of wake up a lit­tle bit,” An­der­son said. “But we’ve got great lead­ers in our room to boost morale when things aren’t go­ing right, a great coach who comes in and sim­pli­fies things, makes guys feel con­fi­dent about their games, not ‘Whoa, here we go again,’ kind of men­tal­ity.”

“(Coach Paul Ma­clean) has re­ally been great with the guys to keep them pos­i­tive, keep their con­fi­dence up.

“It’s a strange game: It doesn’t mat­ter if you win 6-1 or lose 6-1. The sun comes up the next day and you have to get bet­ter.”

Now, An­der­son said, the key is to play con­sis­tent hockey and show that the Sen­a­tors are not just the flavour of the month. It’ll be more dif­fi­cult, though, be­cause teams now know what to ex­pect from the Sen­a­tors. No more sur­prises.

“When we started off the sea­son, we knew there were go­ing to be some humps to get over, some bumps and bruises,” he said.

“But to be able to throw some games to­gether af­ter go­ing through some ad­ver­sity, it’s just the per­fect way to build con­fi­dence.

“I think it’s just great for guys to get their feet wet in the first 20 games, and now it’s time for ev­ery­one to kind of pitch in a lit­tle bit more and give a lit­tle bit more, be­cause, af­ter the 20-game mark, teams knows their sys­tems and who’s play­ing pretty well, so you’ve got to be there ev­ery night.”

NO LINEUP CHANGES

Ma­clean said Saturday he was not an­tic­i­pat­ing mak­ing any changes to the lineup for the game against the Canucks, which means An­der­son should start in net and de­fence­man David Rund­blad will sit as a healthy scratch.

IN­JURY UP­DATE

De­fence­man Matt Carkner (knee) con­tin­ues to prac­tise with the Sen­a­tors, and cen­tre Peter Re­gin (shoul­der) con­tin­ues to work with con­di­tion­ing coach Chris Sch­warz, but nei­ther will be back in the lineup any time soon.

There is also no in­di­ca­tion when right-winger Chris Neil (an­kle) might be back.

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