Sports Hockey

Senators shut out by Capitals after return from five-day break

By Ken Warren

Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) looks on as the puck is deflected off of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) looks on as the puck is deflected off of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Suddenly, one-goal games are the Ottawa Senators’ worst enemies.

The Senators returned from their week off Saturday by losing 1-0 to the Washington Capitals, extending their losing streak to four games. All four defeats have been one-goal defeats.

The Senators had their fair share of chances, but when they did get close, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby shut the door, with 30 saves. Holtby also shut out the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-0 on Thursday and stymied the Senators in their previous game — a 2-1 Washington victory on New Year’s Day.

Saturday’s lone goal came from T. J. Oshie, a mere 1:38 into the game, on the first shot against Senators goaltender Mike Condon. Condon stopped the final 19 shots he faced.

The pre-game surprise was the fact that right winger Bobby Ryan was scratched.

Senators coach Guy Boucher was coy when asked about his absence, saying he was “very hopeful” Ryan would be back in the lineup today when the Senators face Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Pressed again and again on whether it was related to an injury and/or a discipline issue, Boucher offered little more than a smile.

“Hopefully, he’s playing (today),” he said with a smile.

During his morning press conference, Boucher hinted at making a change, but referring to “an issue” that could result in him dressing 11 forwards and seven defencemen.

Ryan wasn’t available for comment after the game.

Whether it’s pertinent or not, Ryan and defenceman Cody Ceci were both benched for a period during an exhibition game after being late for a team meeting.

As for the game, it was pretty much The Holtby Show. He stopped 10 shots in the first, nine in the second and 11 in the third, showcasing why he remains one of the NHL’s elite netminders.

“Overall, again, we put ourselves in a good enough position again to win it, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net,” said captain Erik Karlsson, who came closest to beating the Capitals goaltender, ringing a shot off the crossbar in the second period.

“Every team goes through stretches where they lose a few games in a row and we’re there right now. We’ve got to try and find a way to snap out of it as fast as possible and hopefully get on the other side of things.”

They don’t have to wait long for another opportunity. They’re back at Canadian Tire Centre on Sunday to face the Edmonton Oilers, led by 19-year-old captain Connor McDavid.

Boucher entered the game realistic, given that the Senators hadn’t played since their New Year’s Day 2-1 loss to Washington.

Time after time, he said, teams returning from extended breaks struggle to find their game legs early on.

The Capitals came into the Canadian Tire Centre on a high. Don’t be fooled by their fourth place standing in the highly-competitive Metro Division. They comfortably owned the first wild card spot on the strength of their 24-9-5 record, and were fresh from stopping the Blue Jackets 16-game winning streak on Thursday.

While the Senators had a few early chances, it was Oshie who took advantage of the Capitals first chance, ripping a shot over Condon’s trapper.

The Capitals had few good opportunities after that, but they didn’t need them. They had the big backstop named Holtby to support them.

“I thought we played a very solid game,” said Boucher, who used Jean-Gabriel Pageau in Ryan’s spot on a line with Kyle Turris and Ryan Dzingle for much of the night. “We kept them to 20 shots and we got 30, but I think right now, the recurring them is we’re a little bit snake bitten to find back of the net.”

In Boucher’s estimation, the Senators have played “four really good games”, but are missing the opportunities because of posts and failing to take advantage of odd man breaks.

The power play continues to struggle, going 0-for-3. The Senators have gone 0-for-14 during their four-game slide.

TOUGH SCHEDULE AHEAD

Perhaps it’s a good thing the Ottawa Senators received some rest in early January.

For the rest of the month, they need to put their heads down and battle though the physical and mental challenge of playing one playoff contender after another.

Beginning with Saturday’s game against the Washington Capitals and ending with a game against the Calgary Flames before the All-Star break, the Senators next 10 opponents are all in a playoff position.

Heading into the weekend, the combined records of those 10 squads – the Senators will play Washington, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs twice – was a spectacular 155-80-36.

The Senators, tied with Toronto and the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division before Saturday’s action, need a decent run through the month to stay in a playoff spot themselves.

“It seems like everybody is playing well right now,” said right winger Mark Stone. “Toronto was out of the playoffs by quite a few points a month and a half ago, but now they’re right back in it. That’s why you see nobody making any trades. Just about everybody is still in the hunt for the playoffs. The games are tight.”

The standard line for players and coaches is to say they can only look short-term, concerned with the next game in front of them. But once the Senators say goodbye to Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals Saturday night, they’ll be staring at Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers Sunday. Next Thursday, it’s Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the power of Pittsburgh. A week from now, it will be Auston Matthews and Toronto. And on and on it goes.

kwarren@postmedia.com

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