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By the Numbers: Sens running out of time for playoff push

Ottawa Senators Drake Batherson - The Canadian Press

The first quarter of the 2023-24 season has not gone the way the Ottawa Senators envisioned.

The club, primed to make a leap into the postseason picture, currently sits last in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with 22 points in 23 games.

The team’s frustration reached a boiling point in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, where they allowed three unanswered goals in the second period against one of the teams they are chasing for a playoff spot. 

“It was tough,” said captain Brady Tkachuk. “There’s not really much to say. You never want to come out with a performance like that. There’s a lot to be learned and now we’ve got a huge road trip coming up for us. It’s time for us to step up and dial in.”

Time is running out for the Senators (11-12-0) to turn their season around. While the club has played an NHL-low 23 games, they now need to win all of their games in hand, and more, to catch the Detroit Red Wings (34 points in 28 games), Washington Capitals (31 points in 25 games), New Jersey Devils (31 points in 27 games), and Hurricanes (31 points in 28 games). 

ContentId(1.2048639): The Smokehouse: Time is up on the Senators' playoff pursuit

TSN Director of scouting Craig Button says the Senators’ preseason expectations were realistic. However, he adds that the club is not making the expected progress and may need to consider significant changes moving forward.

“After a really discouraging loss on Tuesday night, the Senators find themselves in a place where they feel like they have a lot of games left. But what clearly has become evident is that it’s one step forward and one step back,” said Button. 

“For a team that was looking to move forward this year and be in a playoff spot, that optimism was realistic. Maybe the expectations were too high, but this is a team that is not playing up to their potential, and, at some point in time, you have to make a significant evaluation of what needs to change.”

Ottawa has not qualified for the playoffs in seven years, missing last season by six points as the team battled injuries all season. The Florida Panthers were the last team to qualify for the playoffs in 2022-23, finishing with 92 points, the fewest points for a playoff team since the Colorado Avalanche qualified with 90 points in 2018-19. 

As things stand, the Sens will need to earn at least 70 points over their final 59 games to be in the hunt for the second wild-card spot. While the young team has shown flashes, they have struggled to put it together for an extended period. 

“They’re not performing like a team that’s capable of winning,” said Button, “Yes, they show you glimpses. But they’re a young team that has promise but they have certainly not found their way. This has been the case with the team for a number of years now. The expectations and the optimism going into the season were much different. 

“After that loss on Tuesday night, you have to feel that the Senators are looking at their own situation and saying, ‘This can’t continue anymore.’ The smoke is rising in Ottawa and changes have to happen – either on or off the ice.”

The Senators will begin a five-game road trip tonight in St. Louis against the Blues, needing a win to begin their climb out of the conference basement. Head coach D.J. Smith says the team can’t afford to have nights like Tuesday moving forward.

“We’re battling with everybody, and we can’t afford to have games like that,” Smith said following the loss. “Especially heading into a long road trip. That’s just not good enough.”