Senators Notebook: After another listless loss at home, Ottawa seeks better effort on road

The local sports radio station that airs Ottawa Senators broadcasts does an exceptional job on game day.

From the morning talk show to pre-game chatter and post-game open phone lines, the state of the team gets fair, thorough treatment. And when the Senators have a rough night, which has been a pattern for five years now, the post-game hosts brace themselves for a deluge of angry callers.

Following Wednesday’s listless 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers, which dropped the Senators’ record to 8-13-1 through 22 games, a host riffed through a spate of texts and emails and declared: “I don’t think there’s a single positive one here.”

If the Senators are disappointed with their last-place standing in the Atlantic Division, in a season where things were supposed to be different, fans have reason to be equally frustrated.

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Every time the team shows glimpses of being better – most recently closing out a western swing with wins in Anaheim and L.A. – it seems they take a step back, such as Wednesday’s stinker against the New York Rangers. The 3-1 final score was flattering to the home team.

It’s fair to say the Senators didn’t have their legs in their first game home after a long trip through three time zones, but as head coach D.J. Smith said prior to the Rangers game – “if you don’t have it that day, play smarter.”

The Senators didn’t play smart enough against a Rangers team that was extremely hungry after three straight losses left them out of a playoff position in the Metropolitan Division.

You could see the experience and playoff savvy of the Rangers, who controlled play most of the night and didn’t give the Senators much.

“I didn’t think there was a lot of room out there,” Smith said afterward.

One of his rookie forwards was more critical of the team’s play.

“I just don’t think we were hard enough in our own zone,” said centre Shane Pinto, who scored Ottawa’s only goal. “I think that was the main reason. Just a couple of soft goals in front of Talbs (Cam Talbot), we kind of left him out to dry there.”

Out of the mouths of babes. Pinto is 22 years old. He has all of 39 games of NHL experience. And even he can see when his team is playing soft in front of its own net.

With nine goals, Pinto is tied with Brady Tkachuk and Claude Giroux for the team lead.

He wasn’t the only forward displeased with zone coverage. On the Rangers’ third goal, the dagger, Tim Stützle looks at Artem Zub and holds his arms out to his side as if to say – that’s your guy. This after Chris Kreider was left all alone to deflect a puck past Talbot.

It’s not a great look on a struggling team, a young centre like Stützle displaying that kind of body language against a defenceman who has been Ottawa’s most consistent defender all season. Stützle has had plenty of his own coverage issues at certain times, most notably in a loss to New Jersey on home ice two weeks ago. On the bright side, Stützle cares a lot and wears his heart on his sleeve, through good and bad.

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Home ice blues

The loss dropped the Senators home record to 5-7-0-0. They are 3-6-1-0.

The seven losses at the Canadian Tire Centre, where the Senators are trying to rebuild a fan base after trying to rebuild the roster, has to be disconcerting.

“We want to be a tough team to play against at home,” has been a mantra spouted by players and coaches alike these past weeks.

It’s not a new development, struggles at home. Last season, Ottawa actually had more wins on the road (18) than at home (15).

When he was asked about this trend, Pinto said he feels there are too many lapses early in periods.

“We’ve got to do a better job starting periods, that’s kind of a big momentum (factor). If we have a good start to the period, then it kind of carries over.”

Sure enough, the Sens are 2-4-0 at home when the visiting team scores first.

And, whatever happened to the Pesky Sens, the comeback kids?

Forget about it when an opponent leads after two periods. Ottawa is 0-6-0 at the CTC this season when trailing after two. Overall, the Sens are 0-10-1. Not once have they overcome a lead after 40 minutes to win a game.

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Now what?

From the fry pan to the fire, the Senators face the Rangers again on Friday. This time at Madison Square Garden, and this time they will likely get New York’s starting goalie, Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin. Jaroslav Halak recorded his first victory of the season (1-5-1) against the Sens, stopping 34 of 35 Ottawa shots.

Expect a much better response from Ottawa than we saw at the CTC on Wednesday.

The Sens are back home on Saturday and get to face their old pal, Erik Karlsson and San Jose Sharks. Karlsson, who is having a throwback offensive season, would be a spectacular addition to any contender this season.

No deal for Formenton

As expected, the Dec. 1 deadline passed without a deal for Senators restricted free agent Alex Formenton. Because he was neither signed by Ottawa nor traded to another club by now, Formenton cannot play in the NHL this season.

Formenton led the Senators with five shorthanded goals last season and was a member of the 2018 Canadian world junior team. The 2018 team is being investigated for sexual assault allegations.

Without an NHL contract, Formenton could opt to play in Europe or the KHL.

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