Senators believe big second half will land them NHL playoff spot

Sens on cusp of playoff spot after 41 games

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators aren’t in a playoff spot at the halfway mark of the season, but considering the challenges they’ve faced through the first 41 games of the year they feel pretty good that won’t be the case by the end of the season.

After starting the season with a new head coach, new system and dealing with unforeseen circumstances the Senators have managed to remain a competitive force in the Eastern Conference.

After 41 games Ottawa has a 22-15-4 record and its 48 points have them tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division, but the Leafs hold the tiebreaker.

The Senators have been without its number one goaltender for much of the season, as Craig Anderson supports his wife Nicole through cancer treatment, and without forward Clarke MacArthur, who is still recovering from post-concussion syndrome. But Ottawa has largely been able been able to withstand the challenges, thanks in part to the play of goaltender Mike Condon.

“To be fair to Condon he’s done everything he could, with the situation that we’ve got,” said Senators coach Guy Boucher. “He hasn’t had the number-one job in the NHL. He’s one of those guys that right now had to battle above expectations and above what he’s had to do in the past and he has done really, really well. It’s all positives…He’s playing great, he’s given us everything he’s got and I think the players recognize that.

I think he represents our season: adversity, fight through and make it happen and that’s why we’re in the fight.”

Boucher admitted losing MacArthur and being without Anderson were significant blows.

“To be where we are right now with what’s happened I have to congratulate the players because they’ve shown a terrific attitude and work ethic and a buy in,” said Boucher. “From now on, from the 41st game to the next we know it’s going to be about consistency and battle and we need to be pushing hard with those teams that are going to be pushing hard and Condon’s going to have to be a big part of that in the next weeks until our number-one goalie comes back.”

Players won’t say they’re satisfied with where they sit, but feel they’ve put themselves in a decent position as they prepare for the second half.

“I think this is an exciting time with the fact that we are in a playoff race and there is 41 games remaining,” said veteran Chris Kelly. “To me it’s an exciting time as a player because you’re up for every game, there’s no down games, no lull games because there are so many teams contending for those playoff spots.”

The Senators head into the second half with a tough week ahead as they prepare to face the St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs.

The Senators gave up a 4-2 loss to the Leafs this past Saturday and in many ways felt they deserved a better fate, but know they can’t look too far ahead as the week will be a difficult one.

Players admit there’s a noticeable change to the game come the halfway mark of the season and every game seems to take on greater significance.

“There’s urgency,” admitted Zack Smith. “Second half of the year it’s just crazy how much the pace kind of picks up, the same way the pace picks up in the playoffs. It’s a different kind of feel to the year definitely when you get to the half.”

Notes: The waiting game continues for the Senators in regards to MacArthur. The forward wasn’t on the ice for practice Monday and it was unclear whether or not he would join the team for the three-game road trip. MacArthur is waiting for full medical clearance to resume playing after suffering a concussion during training camp.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press