Se­na­tors de­fy­ing the odds — and would you look at that, aren’t far out of a play­off spot — while Sharks’ sur­prise strug­gles con­tinue

Sunday Sports - - SPORTS - KEN WAR­REN kwar­[email protected]­media.com @Ci­ti­zenkwar­ren

OT­TAWA — This is why they play the games, folks.

Strip away the “Erik Karls­son re­turns to Ot­tawa” an­gle and take a hard look at the Na­tional Hockey League stand­ings. Specif­i­cally, look at where the San Jose Sharks and the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors sit in their re­spec­tive con­fer­ences.

Af­ter the Se­na­tors’ 6-2 vic­tory over the Sharks on Sat­ur­day, both squads have a dozen vic­to­ries in 27 games and are just out­side po­ten­tial play­off spots.

What were the Ve­gas odds on the Se­na­tors be­ing so high and the Sharks be­ing so low?

Of course, two-thirds of an 82-game reg­u­lar sea­son re­mains and the ex­pec­ta­tion is that the Sharks’ tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence will even­tu­ally trans­late into a run that com­fort­ably puts them in a post-sea­son spot.

Along those same lines, the Se­na­tors’ rel­a­tive youth will surely catch up to them and they’ll fade as the in­ten­sity and pace of games picks up, right?

Funny things can hap­pen along the way, though. Re­mem­ber where the sup­pos­edly loaded Se­na­tors were a sea­son ago, im­me­di­ately af­ter the block­buster deal with Colorado for Matt Duchene?

It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the Se­na­tors got their act to­gether and moved into play­off con­tention while the re­build­ing Avalanche faded, cor­rect?

Now, back to the present. The Sharks are swim­ming up­stream, on a four-game los­ing streak as they pre­pare to face the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens.

Mean­while, the Se­na­tors, who ap­peared to be sink­ing into an ugly spi­ral only a days ago, are rid­ing a three­game win­ning streak.

For a cou­ple of games, at least, the glar­ing de­fen­sive is­sues have been fixed and they con­tinue to score goals.

Play­ing into all of the above are the clauses in­cluded in the deal that sent Karls­son to the Sharks.

If San Jose misses out on the play­offs next spring, the Se­na­tors get the Sharks’ first-round draft pick in 2019, a po­ten­tial re­place­ment for the first-round choice the Se­na­tors gave to the Avalanche in the Duchene deal.

If the Sharks make the play­offs, the Se­na­tors get their 2020 first-round se­lec­tion.

As for talk about the Se­na­tors and the pos­si­bil­ity of play­offs, no­body in the dress­ing room is dar­ing to think that far ahead.

“We think of grow­ing, build­ing. We’re a team like that right now,” said winger Mag­nus Paa­jarvi, who has re-as­serted him­self in the past cou­ple of games as part of a hard-work­ing, two-way line with Zack Smith and Tom Py­att.

“We’re very young. Our young guys are stel­lar, but we still need to grow be­cause we’re not there yet. We re­ally have the po­ten­tial. We can’t even look for the play­offs right now. We have to look at the next five games, the next 10 games. How do we do? How do we build?”

If we’ve learned any­thing about the Se­na­tors through the first third of the sea­son, it’s that we should ex­pect highs and lows as the young play­ers ad­just to the NHL. But, if the cur­rent ride leads to some­thing big­ger, the third-pe­riod rally for a vic­tory in Philadel­phia on Tues­day will rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point.

“That Philly game re­ally gave us mo­men­tum,” said Paa­jarvi, who has scored in con­sec­u­tive games, giv­ing him three in to­tal for the sea­son. “It kind of came out of nowhere. We played our best game of the sea­son Thurs­day (a 3-0 win over the New York Rangers) af­ter that. We have the of­fence, for sure. We just need that de­fen­sive game to get ev­ery­one on the same page.”

Al­most overnight, it seems, the Se­na­tors’ blue­line has be­come big­ger and bad­der.

The re­turn from in­jury of a meaner Ben Harpur (three hits in a tidy 20 min­utes 45 sec­onds of ice time Sat­ur­day), the con­tin­ued devel­op­ment of Chris­tian Jaros (four hits in 13:09), and the ac­qui­si­tion of Justin Falk (a fight and six hits in 12:31 in his Se­na­tors de­but) has cer­tainly pro­vided a new look.

“I would like to come in here and com­ple­ment the group of young guys, a team that is kind of com­ing into its own with a work ethic,” Falk said. “That’s kind of who I am: hard-nosed. If I can be a bit of a sta­bi­lizer back there, then that would be great.”

Per­haps Falk is one an­swer to the many ques­tions fac­ing the Se­na­tors, but for one game at least he was a part of a some­what sur­pris­ing re­sult.

Mean­while the longer the Sharks’ slide con­tin­ues, the more ques­tions will hang over a team fac­ing lofty ex­pec­ta­tions.

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