ATLANTA -- In the feast or famine world of the Ottawa Senators, it's crumb time.
A team as streaky as any in the NHL, the Senators, owners of a franchise-record 11-game winning streak at one point this season, have now managed to play themselves back into the possibility of missing the playoffs for a second straight season. Ouch.
If there was a sense of complacency about having secured a playoff spot just a few short weeks ago, the Senators' recent stretch (one win in their first eight post-Olympic break games) should have provided a sobering reminder that it's never over until ... well ... you know about the singing lady.
"I think we're obviously not happy where we are in coming back from the break," Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson said prior to Thursday's game against Atlanta, the fifth road game the Sens have played since the break. "We believe the way we played before the break that we can right the ship. Will it happen today or in a couple of games? We don't know.
"But I think everybody has the urgency and the desire to really get something going because, not only in making the playoffs, but if you want to make something happen in the playoffs as well, you need to go in with some momentum, and that's our goal here over the last 12 games."
The Senators, once vying for the Northeast Division title with Buffalo, have slid down to fifth in the Eastern Conference. They have scored just 12 times in their eight post-Olympic contests and have failed to score on the power play in six of those contests. The Sens also have the 28th ranked power play in the league.
While they owned an eight-point bulge over ninth-place Atlanta as of Friday morning, the Senators play seven of their final 11 games on the road. That's not necessarily good news. Of the top eight teams in the East heading into action Friday, no team had fewer road wins than the Sens' 14.
If there is a silver lining for the 2007 Stanley Cup finalists, it's the fact they are fully healthy for the first time since late October. Defenseman Filip Kuba and forward Mike Fisher both rejoined the Sens' lineup against Atlanta on Thursday.
Ottawa coach Cory Clouston said that is a good thing in terms of players having to fight their way into a jersey.
"Healthy competition is always good for sure, and complacency, if there has been any, is never what you're looking for, whether it's individually or as a team," Clouston said. "When you do have healthy bodies, it definitely gives you more options and hopefully it will push a few more guys."
The coach said he didn't think his players were resting easy because there weren't enough healthy bodies to push them, but Clouston did acknowledge perhaps being comfortably in the middle of the playoff pack at the Olympic break had taken some of the edge of the Sens' play as a whole.
"I don't want to say it's been a major factor, but I think the intensity and the urgency we played with prior to the break has not been there," he said.
Still, the Senators are much happier to be talking about breaking out of a March slump than they were a year ago, when they had to talk about the prospect of missing the playoffs altogether for the first time since 1996.
"Well, it's going to take some work to come out of it," veteran defenseman Chris Phillips said. "We can't just sit around and wait for that to happen. We've got to be proactive and looking at what we're doing wrong and be better in those areas.
"We're still a confident group in here. We feel good. But like I said, no one's just going to gift wrap it to us. We've got to go out and work for that to turn it around."