Free-falling Senators host Jackets

OTTAWA — There should be more scouts than usual at Canadian Tire Centre this weekend as the free-falling Ottawa Senators play host to a pair of Eastern Conference rivals.

After losing four in a row and nine of their last 11 to drop to 29th in the overall standings, even the Ottawa players are expecting general manager Pierre Dorion to begin the dismantling process.

“When you don’t have success, changes happen. When you don’t play well, changes happen,” Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf said after Thursday’s practice. “We’re all big boys. We know this is a business. We’ve been around it, we’ve seen it. It’s on us as players. We have not got the job done to this point of the year.”

Last season’s conference finalists were 14 points out of the final wild-card spot entering Friday’s action. The Senators (11-16-8) have picked up just 15 of a possible 46 points since the end of October.

“It’s not fair to stand and pick one thing or another … it’s about all aspects of our game. We have to have a little bit more,” said Phaneuf. “Defensively we’ve got to be better, offensively we’ve got to be better. We accept responsibility for where we’re at. We’re as disappointed as everyone. No one is feeling very good. We’ve put ourselves in this position and we’re going to have to get out of it.”

Backup Mike Condon will be in goal when the Senators entertain the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, after Craig Anderson gave up five goals on 23 shots in Boston on Wednesday. Anderson is likely to get the call Saturday when the Bruins are at Canadian Tire Centre for the rematch.

With injuries to key players like defenseman Zach Werenski, winger Cam Atkinson and center Alexander Wennberg, the Blue Jackets (22-13-3) have been involved in three consecutive shootouts and taken six of the last available eight points to grab third place in the Metropolitan Division.

At the same time, they should have fared better on Wednesday, their second shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six days.

Columbus was up 2-0 after one period, 3-1 after two and 4-2 midway through the third before giving up two goals in the final 5:36 and coming up short in the penalty shots tiebreaker.

“I thought we really concentrated on being above the puck,” coach John Tortorella told reporters Thursday, emphasizing a strong first period from the night before. “We have discussed just changing a few things within our game. Not being too safe, but I don’t think we can walk that line as being safe is death right now. I think we have to pick our spots. I think we have to be smarter in some of the chances that we do take.

“And quite honestly, I thought we had some really good minutes in the third period. We self-implode. And that’s a tough one to eat. Sometimes we have to show a little bit of patience in our game.”

Right now, the Senators are just hoping to show a little life. Asked if the team has come to the realization the playoffs are out of reach, veteran center Nate Thompson maintained there’s a more immediate focus.

“You can’t think like that. I don’t think there’s any guy in this room or any guy in this league that’s going to think like that,” said Thompson. “As a professional you come to work every single day, like any other professional. You come to work every day and you do your job. We can’t worry about the outside noise. We can’t worry about the standings. We have to worry about our game. It’s as simple as that.”