|Daniel Alfredsson and the Sens try to keep their season in 'pleasant surprise' territory. (Getty Images)|
The Ottawa Senators picked the wrong time of the year to start playing some of their worst hockey of the season. They enter the week riding a six-game losing streak, including a huge 5-0 loss to the Maple Leafs over the weekend in what might have been the first meaningful Battle of Ontario game in a decade.
A quick look at the standings shows that the Senators are still sitting in a pretty good position, occupying the No. 7 seed with 61 points as of Monday afternoon, three points ahead of the ninth-seeded Washington Capitals.
At this point the Eastern Conference playoff race looks to be down to four teams fighting for what would three spots: Washington, Florida, Ottawa and Toronto. Either the Capitals or Panthers will get in by winning the Southeast Division, which leaves the loser of that race, Toronto and Ottawa, fighting for what could be the last two spots.
There are a couple of factors that could start working against the Senators very soon, if they already haven't.
First is the simple fact that Ottawa has played more games than any team in the league. Toronto and Washington both have three games in hand on the Senators starting the week, and Florida has four. Sooner or later those teams will start to catch up to them as the schedule balances out, which is why the loss to Toronto over the weekend was so damaging. Not only did Ottawa lose two points in the standings, the Leafs didn't even have to give up one of its games in hand to make it happen.
The other factor is that Ottawa has been relying almost entirely on goaltender Craig Anderson in net. For the most part he, like the rest of his teammates, has been a pleasant surprise this season. But he has already appeared in a league-leading (among goalies) 50 games this season, including 22 in a row. That workload, combined with playing behind a team that allows more shots per game than any other team in the league right now, might be starting to wear him down a bit.
There were no expectations for the Senators coming into this season other than for them to be terrible and to get the first overall pick in the draft. Instead, they have managed to hold on to a playoff position longer than anybody could have reasonably expected, which would make it all the more frustrating if they do fall short.