After kicking off a four-game road trip with a 7-5 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, the Ottawa Senators are on a two-game losing skid and have posted only one victory in their past nine games.
However, as the Senators prepare to face the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, there are some positives. Not only did the Senators go blow-for-blow with the ultra-talented Avalanche until late before falling short, but it was with a huge portion of their team returning from COVID-19 amid an outbreak that forced them to postpone three games.
"Coming off a week off of games and playing a team like that who's fast and physical is a challenge," said Ottawa forward Zach Sanford, who had a hat trick in the loss. "We had our legs, we had that intensity, we kept coming back, kept tying the game."
The Senators likely will receive another roster boost when they face the Sharks, as defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is pegged to return from virus protocols, which will help with defenseman Josh Brown due to an upper-body injury sustained in Denver. Forward Drake Batherson also may rejoin the team for Friday's game in Anaheim after being sidelined due to COVID protocols.
Even with the Senators taking an optimistic view, the disappointment of watching a third-period lead disappear before surrendering a winning goal with 93 seconds remaining in regulation will be front and center before facing the Sharks. An empty-net goal made it a two-goal difference.
"We had a lot of good battle but had a lot of really poor decisions with the game on the line," Senators coach D.J. Smith said. "It's an unacceptable loss."
The Sharks are coming off a much-needed, 2-1 overtime victory against Carolina at home on Monday, snapping the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes' four-game winning streak.
San Jose has only two victories in six games and three in nine outings, making the importance of reaching the win column larger than usual, especially with how the team stuck to the game plan in crunch time.
"We had some trouble in our own end at times, but we didn't panic," Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. "It's not always pretty, but it's two points."
The Sharks have managed only 10 goals in their past six games, so Kevin Labanc's game-tying score in the third period and Alexander Barabanov's overtime winner felt like a veritable offensive outburst.
"With us being down 1-0, that was a big goal," Labanc said. "It's a big one for us against a great hockey team."
Amid their struggles, though, the Sharks have benefited from strong play by goaltender James Reimer, who had a 22-save performance against the high-scoring Hurricanes and has solidified a problem area for the club the past few seasons.
His team may have a tough time collecting victories, but Reimer is among the league leaders with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage. In nine starts, he has collected five wins in which three came by scores of 2-1, two of those in overtime.
"He's been solid for us all year," defenseman Erik Karlsson said of Reimer, who is slated to face the Senators. "He's coming in with a great attitude. Even if one squeaks by himm it doesn't really affect him. ... That obviously gives the bench and the players on the ice a bit more confidence."
--Field Level Media