For the second straight game, the Ottawa Senators fell meekly to a scuffling team. The St. Louis Blues, fresh off firing their coach in response to an underwhelming start to the year, ran roughshod over the local heroes for much of the game. Don't let the final shot count, 34-30 in favour of the Sens, fool you: St. Louis crushed the life out of this game, dominating for much of the first two periods. It was only after the Blues took a 4-1 lead early in the third frame that the Sens were able to mount sustained pressure. If one was ever looking for a clear illustration of score effects, you could not do much better than the last twelve minutes of this affair.
The Vladimir Tarasenko Revenge Game never materialized, Mark Kastelic's return didn't jump-start the fourth line, and, for reasons that are somewhat unclear to me, the Sens at times struggled to complete 10 foot passes for long stretches of the first stanza. Not even a Brady Tkachuk fight in the second frame, a true "drag the boys into the fight" moment if there ever was one, could inspire the troops. True, Dominik Kubalik scored to make it 3-1 in the immediate aftermath of the tilt but any energizing effect was lost immediately after that. I am not a body language interpretor, but Jake Sanderson looked downright miserable during his first intermission interview. The vibes were familiar, and extremely cursed.
Forgive me, then, if the prospect of a bloodless blow-by-blow accounting of the evening's proceedings feels inadequate. After a performance like tonight's, it's hard not to think about the bigger picture. Yes, as I have written many time already, the season is long. Even good teams put up stinkers. Even the best teams occasionally look disinterested, or maybe even a bit lazy. No one executes at top gear for 82 games plus play-offs because it's not humanly possible. What most readers of this blog, and I think most fans of this team, are asking for is not the impossible, but merely for the players to play to their potential. For a season that's barely more than a quarter done, the Sens have already run through a full year's worth of stinkers.
After 24 games, the Sens are 11-13. As much as I am a fan of Thomas Chabot, one simply cannot blame the team's feeble record to his prolonged absence alone. When you look at this roster, do you see a squad that should be battling to stay out of last place in the Eastern Conference? I do not! At some point I might be forced to re-visit this belief if things continue as they are, but this roster strikes me as far too good to be in this position.
Naturally when a team is underperforming relative to their perceived strength the Head Coach is the first one to come under scrutiny. At this point everyone has their views on DJ Smith, and I doubt I can say anything that hasn't already been said before. Maybe Steve Staios should relieve DJ of his duties, if only to change things up, but I also have time for the argument that these things should be done with care and in their due course. You'd need to be awfully sure that the lion's share of the blame for how things have gone lays with the coach before you short-circuit your process for temporary fix.
Sens fans are passionate, see the nearly 400 comments on the Game Thread for a match-up that was thoroughly depressing almost from the drop. What if this team could actually string together a winning strike? What would that look like? After all the disappointment of the early part of this campaign, I'm still stuck believing there's a lot more than this team has shown. Judging by the passion I regularly see on display, there's a lot of folks here that are ready to be believers too if they could just be given the chance. That belief grows more faint with each game like this, but it's still there. With a very tough section of the schedule coming up, we might need to re-visit if it's still there in just a few days' time. Regardless of how it's done, of who's in the line-up, of who's filling out that line-up, just give us something to believe in, lads.