A difficult week off the ice for the Ottawa Senators has led to a three-game losing streak, as they come to terms with the tragic death of assistant coach Luke Richardson’s daughter. Ottawa gritted out a 2-0 victory in Boston last Saturday night, rallying around their friend and coach, but for the Senators, the emotions of the week have taken a toll; they have been outscored 17-4 in their last three games.
While the Senators have struggled at time this season against the elite teams in the NHL, their fans have supported the team through their recent struggles. Unlike the start of the season, when fans were calling for changes to the roster, this week there has been a quiet understanding that life and not hockey has been at the forefront of their minds.
As head coach Cory Clouston told long-time hockey columnist Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun earlier in the week, “We have to realize that hockey just is a game. We do it for our livelihood, we do it for our job, but in the big scheme of things there are more important things and this is a situation where definitely it is more important for us to be there” (in Ottawa for Wednesday’s ceremony to honour Daron Richardson).
“This is very tough,” Clouston explained to Garrioch. “There’s not much time goes by that it doesn’t enter your mind. They’re not robots. They care about Luke. They care about his family and it has been on their minds.”
After their 2-0 win in Boston, the Senators rolled into Philadelphia on Monday to face last year’s Eastern Conference Champions. While Ottawa took the early lead on a goal from Jason Spezza, the Flyers answered back to take a 2-1 lead after one period of play. The Senators were able to hang around through the first two periods, trailing 3-1 after two, but the Flyers demonstrated why they are one of the best teams in the East, out-shooting the Senators 46-29 and sealing the victory with two goals from Mike Richards in the third.
After a very emotional morning on Wednesday, having received special permission from the league to return home from the road trip to be with the Richardson family, the players were off to Carolina, arriving a few hours before game time. It was apparent very early on that the players were emotionally drained from the day’s events, and the Hurricanes pounced on their visitors, taking a 4-0 lead into the first intermission.
Eric Staal led the Hurricanes with three goals and two assists, and the Hurricanes chased starter Brian Elliott from the net in the first period. A scoreless second gave the Sens a glimmer of hope but Carolina scored three more goals on only six shots against Pascal Leclaire. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson broke Cam Ward’s shutout bid with a power play goal at 9:31 of the third, but that was the only offence that Ottawa could muster.
“It was pretty much the worst-case scenario,” Chris Phillips told the Associated Press after the game. “We wanted to win this game for so many reasons. A couple early mistakes and lost battles and before we knew it, we were down 4-0.”
Media members that travel with the team pointed out that there were a few smiles at practise on Thursday; as the Senators prepared to face the struggling St. Louis Blues – a team that had lost five in a row themselves. Even though he has been battling through an undisclosed “upper-body” injury, Mike Fisher had the Senators up 1-0 after twenty minutes with a great backhand that got past Blues goaltender Ty Conklin.
As is often the case when a team is struggling, the Senators lost their focus temporarily in the second period and the Blues made them pay for their mistakes; scoring three unanswered goals in less than one minute and thirty seconds mid-way through the period. Brad Boyes got the Blues on the board and they did not look back, capitalizing on several Ottawa mistakes to end the second period with a 3-1 lead. The Senators could not keep up with the fast-skating Blues and dropped their third game in a row, final score – 5-2 in favour of St. Louis.
The Ottawa Senators have a few days to regroup and prepare for an important week ahead, as they host the Los Angeles Kings on Monday and the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, before an important Eastern Conference battle against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road Friday night.
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.