OTTAWA — Dark clouds are circling over the Ottawa Senators, who hope to make it through Saturday without getting drenched.
The season forecast could hinge on what hits them in the morning.
Both players were injured during Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, after which Senators coach Guy Boucher said both “could be” out long term.
The Senators (12-14-3) are still among the pack in the playoff chase, but after back-to-back losses they are also only a couple of points from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins in home-ice starts less than 24 hours apart — beginning with Saturday’s game against a Penguins team that’s revving its engine — will be a difficult challenge even if the Senators catch a break on the Duchene and Ryan injury fronts.
They can ill afford to lose either player for an extended period.
“I would like to say going forward it’s going to be better,” goalie Craig Anderson said after the Senators were sunk by a second-period breakdown against the Montreal Canadiens — for the second time in two days — after stringing three wins together the previous week.
“We have to make sure we do everything we can to make it better and be more consistent. Losing that momentum, making it two, three, four (losses), that’s where things start to be a little sour. We want to make sure we don’t go down that path.”
The Penguins (12-10-5) will be starting a three-game road trip when they visit Ottawa. They are coming off back-to-back wins (6-3 over Colorado and 6-2 over the New York Islanders) for the first time since October.
Pittsburgh is now 5-2-1 in its last eight games.
“Obviously this year hasn’t started off the best for us,” Penguins winger Phil Kessel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’re right in it. There’s lots of hockey to play. We have to keep improving and getting better.”
Taking over the goaltending reins since the injury to Matt Murray, Casey DeSmith is now 5-1-1 in his last seven starts.
“That’s what happens when the whole team comes out and plays really well, plays really hard,” DeSmith told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after stopping 19 of 21 shots in Thursday’s win over the Islanders. “Dominated at home, that’s something we’ve been wanting to do more and more lately. I think (Thursday) was kind of a culmination of that. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”
This will be the second of three meetings between Ottawa and Pittsburgh this season. The Senators, who are 9-5-2 at Canadian Tire Centre, defeated the Penguins 6-4 on Nov. 17 at PPG Paints Arena, with Duchene and Mark Stone each scoring twice and Anderson making 31 saves.
Anderson, who is 6-10-3 in his career against the Penguins, is expected to get the start Saturday. In that case, coach Guy Boucher would likely go with backup Mike McKenna versus the Bruins.
“The major thing we have to do is play with the puck a little more,” said Anderson, who has faced more rubber than any other goalie this season. “That’s the key.”