Goal drought gets Gonchar’s goat
Defenceman knows injury-depleted squad must improve power play
PHILADELPHIA — Normally, Sergei Gonchar is a mild-mannered sort, taking a business-like approach to his job as the veteran on the Ottawa Senators defence.
So, when Gonchar smashed his stick across the boards following a power play drill during Friday afternoon’s practice at the Wells Fargo Center — in preparation for Saturday’s noon tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers — it was definitely out of character.
“It happens once in a while, today is one of those days,” Gonchar said afterwards.
“We were working on some things and things didn’t work out the way I expected, so I got frustrated.”
It’s no secret that the club’s offence has dried up due to its long injury list to key players, but that puts even more emphasis on the need to cash in with the man advantage. Even with Jim O’Brien’s power play goal at the tail end of an advantage during Thursday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, the Senators’ power play is 3-for-38 in the past 11 games.
The Senators failed to take advantage of a delay-of-game penalty to the Bruins’ Milan Lucic in the final minute of regulation and, immediately after the loss to the Bruins, captain Daniel Alfredsson was stressing the importance of the power play. Senators coach Paul MacLean spent a good portion of Friday’s practice trying to fine-tune the special teams.
As Gonchar’s stick-smashing indicates, it’s still a work in progress.
“Every guy out there wants to (improve),” said Gonchar. “When we break the puck out, there are certain responsibilities, but all of us, we have to learn from each other. I think we did.”
MacLean even took a poke at his own squad Friday, realizing that the outstanding work of the team’s penalty killing units has been offset by the power play struggles.
“I think we’re killing off all the penalties really well,” he quipped, suggesting that even if the club doesn’t score on the power play, it can at least generate opportunities that turn momentum.
The Senators have become one of the most intriguing stories around the NHL, due to their ability to stay in game after game despite sporting a roster filled with minor-league call-ups. The loss to the Bruins ended a five-game winning streak. Before Friday’s games, the Senators (12-6-3) were fifth in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of the ninth-place Flyers (10-11-1).
The goaltenders have been spectacular — Ben Bishop will start against Philadelphia — but a few more goals at key times would provide a little more breathing room.
Kyle Turris, playing against top checkers since Jason Spezza’s injury, didn’t score in February. His drought goes back to Jan. 25, a stretch of 17 games.
“I’m getting the chances, I just have to start burying them,” said Turris. “I’m trying to take the positives out of it.”
Turris had four shots against the Bruins. His fourth almost won the game for the Senators in overtime. After Mika Zibanejad stole the puck from the Bruins’ Dougie Hamilton behind Boston’s net, he fed Turris in the slot. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask made the save.
“That was a great play by Mika,” said Turris. “A really nice strip, a great pass. I just didn’t get the shot up, I was too close to the goalie. I’ve got to finish that.”
While Turris isn’t lighting it up offensively, he’s not about to change his style.
“I’m not trying to change my game at all, I’m just trying to improve it,” he said. “I’m trying to create chances for linemates and myself and be solid defensively.”
Saturday’s game offers up a contrast between the tight-checking Senators and the wide-open Flyers. While Ottawa has scored 49 goals and allowed 39, the Flyers have scored 64 and allowed 67.
Gonchar, 38, and now in his 18th NHL season, says the Senators are trying to create their share of scoring opportunities. It’s not like the defensive-oriented Washington Capitals squad he played for in the mid 1990s, where the goal was often to win 1-0.
“It’s not like we’ve forgotten about offence, it’s just the way the games shape up for us and we still have to find ways to improve our offence,” he said. “We’re scoring one goal, two goals (per game), we have to try and score more.”
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