It was late in the final frame of Saturday night’s game against the Florida Panthers that the Senators’ scoring slump finally reached its most frustrating point.
After dominating the first 50 minutes, only to find themselves down 4-1 on a few fluky goals, a couple of quick whistles from referee Tom Kowal took the wind completely out of their sails and killed any faint hopes of a last-minute comeback.
First, it was Ryan Dzingel who found a rebound off a Cody Ceci point shot that got away from Roberto Luongo. But the play was stopped before he could make anything of it. Then, just seven seconds later after the TV timeout, Chris Wideman fired a snap shot on net that eluded Luongo and found the stick of Mark Stone, who promptly put the puck past the Panthers netminder. But again, the whistle had blown several tenths of a second before Stone had shot.
That was it. Surely, they were cursed.
“That’s how close we are,” said Zack Smith after practice on Monday morning. “I think it would be easy to feel sorry for ourselves when you look back at plays like that and blame it (as) the reason we’re not winning, but if you do that, then it’s a slippery slope.”
In each of their last 12 games, the Senators have failed to score more than two goals in regulation. Most night’s they’ve only managed one.
But the goals will come. That’s what they keep telling themselves.
“Well, we just had Pekka Rinne at .930 (save percentage) and above and we just had Luongo who stoned us the whole game,” explained head coach Guy Boucher. “So we just need to do our thing.”
If it seems like Ottawa have run into a hot the last 12 games in a row, it’s because they have. During that time span, opposing goaltenders have a .954 save percentage. And as a result, the Senators have scored a league-low 17 goals.
“We’ve just got to improve our finishing,” said Boucher. “It’s clear. To get (to the net) now, to give us the scoring chances, it’s all there. It’s just finish now.”
Just like they have so many times the past month, the Senators will brush off the previous offensively deficient night and head onto the next, desperately trying to pry the monkey off their back.
Tonight, they’ll have to do that against Carey Price, though. The biggest reason why the Canadiens sit atop the league with 30 points in 19 games, Price is comfortably rocking a .950 save percentage and 1.58 goals against average.
Oh, and he’s yet to lose in regulation this season.
But there’s just something about Montreal that motivates the Senators unlike any other team.
“There’s a lot of guys in here that love playing against them,” said Smith, just before heading off to La Belle Province. “I scored my first goal against Montreal in that building. Since then, I’ve always just loved playing there and playing against them. It’s been a good, healthy rivalry, for the most part.”
One of those guys is definitely Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and with the 24-year-old sitting at two goals on the season - one of them an empty-netter - a date with the Habs couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Maybe he’s the one that will finally carry the team over the three-goal hill they’ve been attempting to climb since late October.
“He’s the Canadien killer,” Smith acknowledged with a laugh. “He’s always done well against Montreal. There’s just a little more step, I guess, in his game and it’s nice to see.”