This can’t be the start Eugene Melnyk envisioned for his Ottawa Senators. Fourteen games into this young NHL season, the Senators are near the bottom in league standings and their fans appear to be slipping away.
The team closed out a three-game home stand Oct. 27 by drubbing the San Jose Sharks 5-2. But just 9,740 spectators were on hand to witness it. During the seven home matches to date, attendance at the Canadian Tire Centre averaged 11,260, according to official game reports. That’s less than 60 per cent of capacity. Whether it’s spectators or percentage of seats filled, the Senators rank 31st in a league of 31 teams. The next home game — on Thursday against the L.A. Kings — seems unlikely to break the pattern.
Even so, Melnyk isn’t about to panic.
“Our goal is to show our fans we are very serious about building a contender here in Ottawa and that means doing it the right way, which isn’t always the easiest or fastest,” he noted in an emailed response to multiple queries from this newspaper. “I do find it inspiring to see underdogs succeed, as I think all sports fans do.”
Indeed, given the strange alchemy of professional sports these days you would be foolish to draw hard conclusions from dispiriting early season results. The Washington Nationals this year launched their baseball season by losing 62 per cent of their first 50 games, yet persevered to win the World Series. The St. Louis Blues began 2019 ranked dead last in the National Hockey League, then flipped a switch. The team won its first Stanley Cup in June.
The Senators, too, know something about how momentum can shift. Two years ago, despite a 12th-place finish in the regular season, they came within one goal of qualifying for the Stanley Cup final.