Ottawa Senators can play so well, but also capable of playing poorly

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It has been a weird, sometimes painful-to-watch rollercoaster ride for the Ottawa Senators.

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Sometimes they serve up stinkers against the NHL’s worst teams, on other nights they look like they’re every bit as good as the league’s best.

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Thursday, they did what they should do: Beat the lowly Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 with an excellent effort at both ends of the ice.

Now, bottle that formula and bring it every night.

The day before, the Senators rolled to five first-period goals and a 6-2 win in Buffalo. Three days before that — Sunday on home ice — the Senators beat Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers 5-3. The day before that, the Senators coasted to a 5-2 win in New Jersey.

Four straight wins. Impressive.

It’s much more like the hockey team plenty of people expected to see for long stretches of this season.

When they’re good, yeah, they can be good.

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Oh, but we forgot to mention the bad.

Leading into the win streak were three straight losses — 5-2 to St. Louis, 6-2 to Boston and 7-2 to Carolina. There was also a horrible West Coast trip earlier in March.

That about sums it up in a season where the good has been overmatched by the bad.

But, let’s stick with the positives. The team is finally showing signs of life and doing a lot of the things you would have hoped would be in their arsenal from the beginning of the season.

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So, why? That’s something general manager Steve Staios and his hockey operations people are going to need to figure out during what will be a long off-season.

But, there’s still hockey left. Ottawa has 10 games remaining on its schedule, finishing April 16 in Boston.

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The Senators will be tested Saturday by one of the best, with a road game against the Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. start).

If they can put in the same work ethic and attention to detail they did Thursday, they’ll put up a good fight against the Jets, who lost 4-1 to Las Vegas Thursday.

“We’re doing the right things,” said Claude Giroux, who had a short-handed goal against the Blackhawks. “I think we’re playing the right way early on and when we have a chance to score, we bear down and put it in.”

It sure seems like too little, too late. But the Senators aren’t rolling over. Would it be too much to hope they’re setting a positive tone for next season?

“We know how hard it is to win in this league and how consistent you have to play to get to the playoffs — you need almost 100 points,” Senators centre Tim Stutzle said. “We have to keep believing in this group. Keep believing in the core we have. We need to be way better, that’s our goal. Everybody’s going to work really, really hard this summer and hopefully achieve our goal (of getting into the playoffs).”

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After Thursday’s win, Ottawa goalie Anton Forsberg, who made 19 saves for his second shutout of the season and fifth of his career, said: “The last three or four games here, we’ve played really well both offensively and defensively. (Thursday), it was kind of a perfect game. We created a lot of scoring chances, didn’t (give) up a lot.” … Asked about his teammates defending against rookie hotshot Connor Bedard, who came away with nothing Thursday, Forsberg said: “We know what he’s trying to do. He’s trying to come at defencemen and kind of toe drag the guy and shoot between the legs. (Our defencemen) did a really good job at keeping the stick on him, so he didn’t really get any really dangerous shots.”

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Giroux’s short-handed goal 36 seconds into Thursday’s game was the fourth-fastest short-handed game-opening goal on record, behind Wayne Gretzky (0:30 on Dec. 10, 1986), Dirk Graham (0:30 on Oct. 18, 1986) and Brad Marchand (0:32 on Feb. 8, 2024) … Parker Kelly was hit by a puck Thursday and played several shifts with his nostrils full of gauze. “I think I got a little bit lucky, it could’ve been the teeth,” Kelly said. “As soon as it happens, you just kind of go into shock. There’s no point in lying down, you’ve just got to get up, go to the bench and get it looked at. We’ve got great doctors here, they’ll take care of it.” … A good Jakob Chychrun quote from a few days ago, after the win over Edmonton: “Confidence is everything in this league, both individually and as a group, It wasn’t a Picasso (vs. Edmonton) but as a group we found a way (to win).” … Tyler Kleven got the call to sub in for injured Thomas Chabot on Thursday. Asked about the young defenceman, Senators coach Jacques Martin said: “The kid gave us a good game. I really like how he handled himself. He showed good poise, he was smart, he looked before getting to the puck, finding what options he had for breakouts. I thought he kept his game simple, but effective.”

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