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Struggling Senators look to move on from quiet yet disappointing November

Ottawa Senators defenceman Artem Zub ties up Florida Panthers centre Sam Reinhart (13) as goaltender Joonas Korpisalo stays focused on the puck during first period NHL action, in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators are more than happy to turn the page on the calendar.

The Senators went 4-5-0 over a league-low nine games in November and fell into last place in the Eastern Conference with an 8-9-0 record.

Ottawa has games in hand on other teams after travelling Sweden to take part in the NHL's Global Series, but making ground could be difficult. The Senators sit nine points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who currently hold the final wild card spot, with six fewer games played.

“We need to win a game, but we need to win a game doing it right ... and then get on some kind of run, rhythm, what have you and do what I know we can do,” head coach D.J. Smith said.

The upcoming month will be challenging for the Senators with 15 games in 31 days and two sets of back-to-backs, the first coming this weekend with games against Columbus and Seattle.

Ottawa will play seven of the 15 at the Canadian Tire Centre, but considering the Senators have lost seven of their last eight on home ice that might not prove beneficial.

Overall, the Senators have played well below expectations, evident in an ugly 5-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday. After the game Smith took the fall, saying he didn't have his players properly prepared.

Smith’s team has failed to play with any sense of consistency, continues to struggle defensively and has yet to find an identity.

Ottawa’s goaltending tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg has been mediocre and sits 28th in the league with an .887 save percentage. 

Special teams have also struggled. The penalty-killing unit is operating with a 74.6 success rate, to sit 26th in the league. The power play, which has gone 2-for-19 through the last four games leaves them sitting 20th in the league. 

“Right now, where we sit, 22 and 26 I believe, you know, you’re not going to win a whole lot like that,” Smith said. “I think the most important one is that the emphasis always gets put on the power play because when you do your top guys start to feel it and it bleeds into five-on-five, but probably the most important is the penalty kill. You’ve got to keep the puck out of your net.”

There is some good news on the horizon with defenceman Thomas Chabot returning to the lineup Friday after missing the last 10 games with a fractured hand. Centre Ridly Greig returned to the ice for the first time Wednesday since being injured Nov. 2, but his return date remains questionable as the Senators said they will not rush the 21-year-old.

“I’m very excited,” said Chabot. “I’ve been fortunate enough that with the injury I had I’ve been skating for a while so really, it’s just going back there and trying to help the team win. 

"We’ve played some good hockey and we’ve had some tougher games, but I think this group is looking to take a step forward in the upcoming games.”

After a bit of a wonky schedule through their first 17 games the Senators will finally find themselves playing a much more normal cadence, but finding the right pace will be key for the Senators.

Defenceman Travis Hamonic is looking forward to the busier schedule providing a chance to get into a routine.

“When you get into that rhythm you can really feel your game start to build,” he said. “It can be taxing mentally, so you just have to be smarter and wiser about the choices you make whether it’s nutrition, recovery or just how you spend your time away from the rink.”

Forward Josh Norris hopes the next month will being some consistency.

“There’s always a lot of things you want to improve on and certainly we wish that we were at a better place at this point,” Norris said. “Consistency is what you want, you know, it’s the most important word in sports and I think we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press

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