Mendes: After two crippling losses, Senators need calm, measured approach to trade deadline

It’s OK to admit you held out hope for a miraculous Ottawa Senators playoff run this month.

After all, the Senators had reeled off four straight wins in the middle of February.

Interim head coach Jacques Martin lauded his team’s ability to show some maturity and growth within the season. The club was playing its best hockey of the season, ripping through a 7-1-2 stretch.

“I give them credit. I think they’ve grown,” Martin said on Feb. 15. “And it’s congratulations to them to making that commitment and playing within the structure.”

Since those comments, however, the Senators have reverted to their inconsistent ways. They only managed to win three of their next eight contests after Martin heaped that praise on their shoulders.

They lost to Anaheim and Chicago, two lottery doormats that should have been easy fodder for an Ottawa team on the upswing. They somehow managed to take seven of a possible eight points against Tampa, Florida, Dallas and Vegas — offering one final glimmer of a playoff mirage.

But consecutive losses to Washington and Nashville in the span of 48 hours have broken the spirits of even the most optimistic Ottawa fan. The dreams of a Hamburglar 2.0 run have evaporated into the unseasonably mild February air. Spartacat is officially taking booking requests for the middle of April.

And it’s hard to pick out the lowest moment from this week, isn’t it?

There’s a case for allowing six goals on 20 shots against the Capitals on Monday. That was ugly.

Josh Norris ominously leaving the game with an upper-body injury on Tuesday night. That could be catastrophic.

But being outshot 20-0 in the third period against the Predators? That is downright embarrassing.

The Senators have been around the NHL for more than three decades and had never played a period in which they were held without a shot until Tuesday night. As TSN stats wizard Jon Perlberg pointed out, the Senators have played more than 7,200 periods of NHL hockey without this happening to them.

This didn’t happen during those atrocious expansion days at the Civic Centre. It never happened under Dave Allison. And it didn’t occur when Brian Gibbons was getting regular shifts for this team during that bizarre and forgettable 2018-19 season.

Zero shots over a 20-minute span is simply not defensible, even if we try.

The Senators were playing the second half of a back-to-back, so it’s plausible they simply ran out of gas. It’s also possible they were mentally rattled by seeing their teammate and friend Norris leave the ice in such a discouraging manner. That’s understandable on some level.

But the worst part is being blanked on the shot clock in Nashville doesn’t even represent the lowest point of the season for Ottawa. That honour still goes to the window in early December when this team was spiralling out of control in a complete nosedive.

It required a change at the head coach position and a recalibration of the team’s philosophy.

The fan base was ready to boil over at that point. Tensions and emotions were running hot in this marketplace.

But now, at the end of February, that anger has morphed into exhaustion. This fan base is tired of the same roller-coaster ride: An awful start to the season followed by an inspiring stretch of play when the club is nearly mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.

And then holes start to appear.  Three good games, followed by a pair of inexcusable performances.

And sometimes it’s two good weeks, followed by a bad week or two that plunges them right back where they started. It’s the recipe for being a consistent 75-to-85-point team in this league.

As Steve Staios navigates his first trade deadline as general manager, he should be taking a calm and rational approach to analyzing this roster. His evaluations shouldn’t be based on this rickety three-week stretch in which the team has pinballed between beating Stanley Cup contenders and meekly tapping out against the worst teams in the league.

Staios should look at the big picture, which reveals that same picture of inconsistency, only spread out over a longer stretch of time. This franchise is barrelling toward a seventh consecutive season of missing the playoffs, which is one of the longest droughts of the salary-cap era.

And this should be branded as completely unacceptable by everybody in the Senators sphere. Ownership, management, coaching staff, players, fans and media.

Not a single group listed above should be satisfied with another underwhelming season that is dotted with brief glimpses of hope.

This organization needs to address its goaltending. It needs to shore up the blue line with another reliable right-shot defender. The fourth line could use some help, too. And there is a legitimate case to be made that trading a core piece of the roster is needed to achieve one or more of the stated objectives.

The previous regime constantly made bold moves to try and push this team into the playoffs. Pierre Dorion routinely traded away first-round picks, making splashy, aggressive win-now moves. In many ways, he was reactionary, impulsive and emotional in the general manager’s seat.

This current iteration of management has the luxury of behaving in the opposite manner heading into the trade deadline.

They have the benefit of being cold, calculated and deliberate in their actions.

But when they look through that lens, they should see the same picture that angry, emotional Ottawa fans see.

Because no matter what perspective you’re looking at — big picture or small — this team has been utterly disappointing.

(Photo of Drake Batherson: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

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