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Northeast: Defensive problems in Ottawa

Wednesday, 01.30.2008 / 10:57 AM / Division Notebooks

By James Murphy - NHL.com Correspondent

Martin Gerber currently holds a 23-8-1 record this season.
Gerber highlights
After a 5-2 win against the Islanders Tuesday night, the Senators have won two straight. But things could still be better for the Eastern Conference’s best team. Since starting the season 15-2, Ottawa is 17-13-4 and has watched its division and conference lead dwindle. The Canadiens beat Washington Tuesday night to remain six points behind the Senators. Throw in some more controversy between the pipes and things have been a bit dicey in Ottawa as they prepare for the stretch run.

When the Senators went on that early season tear, they used their Stanley Cup loss to the Ducks as motivation to get off to a fast start and send a message to the League that their playoff run was no fluke. While some finalists tend to suffer from slow starts the following season, Ottawa was intent on avoiding a Stanley Cup finals hangover.

“I think we really focused on conditioning in the offseason and trying to have a really solid camp,” GM Bryan Murray said. “There was an emphasis to not have that Stanley Cup hangover and get off to a fast start.”

But somewhere along the line, Murray believes his team became too comfortable, lost focus and forgot to do the little things.

“I think one of the most important things we did in the playoffs last season and then during the beginning of this season was we were playing solid hockey without the puck,” Murray said. “We made that a priority and we executed on the ice. But we lost that focus and for a while now, we haven’t been doing that. It’s really hurt us.”

The Senators have allowed 147 goals, and while the offense has scored 179 times, the former still worries Murray.

“Our goals-against has been way too high as of late and we need to get back to playing on both sides of the ice,” he said.

Murray pointed to the numerous odd-man rushes the Senators tend to allow almost every game and how that has led to the increased goals against.

“I don’t know, but it seems like we’re giving up 3-on-2s every game lately,” he said. “Our forwards need to get back and help out. They can’t just depend on the defense to get the puck out or keep it out of our zone. The defense has been doing a decent job, but the forwards have to play a better two-way game and start coming back.”

James Murphy
James Murphy reports on the Northeast Division every week throughout the 2007-08 regular season.
Recent Northeast highlights:
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Despite this lack of team-wide defense, Murray and Paddock both believe the team could also get better goaltending from Martin Gerber and Ray Emery. Gerber was the best goalie in the League during the aforementioned 15-2 start as he went 13-2 in his first 15 starts of the season. But since then, both he and Emery have struggled. Last week, Paddock let it be known that he had issued a challenge to his two goaltenders to seize the No.1 spot and he would give each goalie a set of games to dictate who would assume that role down the stretch run. Murray believes it’s simply a matter of stopping the shots they’re supposed to stop.

“I think there have been some spotty goals let in and the bottom line is we need them to stop the shots they’re supposed to stop,” Murray said. “Overall, the goaltending has been pretty good, but we need them to make the saves they should make and then make some big saves for us.”

Gerber started again Tuesday, but his performance last night may have nothing to do with who grabs the top spot. On Monday, for the second time this season, Emery arrived late for practice. It was another chapter in what has become a string of negative incidents for the goalie who backstopped Ottawa to the Final last season, but has been unable to regain his form on and off the ice this season. Murray also admitted that he and Paddock have contemplated sending Emery to the AHL’s Binghamton Senators or even trading him.

“If you're asking me am I sending him to Binghamton or am I sending him to another team, I don't think there's that opportunity at this point in time and I made that clear to him," he told the Ottawa Citizen. “I certainly have talked to some teams about goaltending. At this moment, most teams feel satisfied with their goaltending, so there isn't any opportunity at the moment. The option is to leave him at home and not let him play and I don't know if I want to do that at this point in time.”

While Murray may not find a solution to the Emery dilemma via a trade, he is trying very hard to find some depth up front. Murray is worried about the lack of points from his depth forwards and would like to add a capable forward to pick up the slack when the top line of captain Daniel Alfredsson (68 points), Jason Spezza (60 points) and Dany Heatley (56 points) are hurt or struggling, the latter of which has thankfully been rare.

Ray Emery may be sent down to the AHL or traded to another team. Listen to Head-to-Head: Ray Emery and J.S. Giguere

“I’d have to say that yeah, we’re a little disappointed with the lack of depth points we’re getting,” Murray admitted. “Last season, when Spezza went down, we had that line with (Chris) Kelly and (Antoine) Vermette, and then we’d slot whomever in next to them, and it was clicking all the time. We haven’t had that secondary group that you need to win in this league. Our top line is lighting it up every night, but if one of them goes down, like right now with Heatley, then we need other guys to step up. We can’t just depend on the top line every night.

”I’ve said all along that I’d like to add another top six forward, but the problem is, so would every other team in contention.”

Murray also acknowledged that even though he’s pleased with the performance of his defense, he wouldn’t mind adding some depth to the blue line.

No matter what Murray is able to bring in via a trade, he knows that his team will not succeed if they don’t execute their skills and attributes on the ice. For one reason or another, the Senators forgot what it takes to stay on top and Murray believes it’s a matter of work ethic and not getting comfortable.

“It’s such a thin margin for error in this league right now and we can’t afford to get comfortable,” he said. “We need to be respectful of every team we play regardless of their record. We’ve been losing to the lower corridor of teams on a frequent basis. Guys have to realize that we don’t just drop the puck and let the top line take over. We can’t take things for granted and have to earn every win.”

Who’s Hot? -- After scoring the winning goal in the All-Star Game, Bruins center Marc Savard picked up an assist in a 3-1 win over Nashville Tuesday night, giving him five points (one goal, four assists), in his last two games.

The Canadiens have been getting scoring from throughout the lineup and that’s why they’re only six points out of first in the Eastern Conference and Northeast Division. Defenseman Mark Streit has five points (1 goal, 4 assists), in his last two games, and fellow defenseman Mike Komisarek had four points with a goal and three assists. Bryan Smolinski had four points (3 goals, 1 assist), in two games and Andrei Kostitisyn also had four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in the same span.

Daniel Alfredsson took over the league lead in points last Thursday with an amazing seven-point game in a 8-4 win over Tampa Bay and then added an assist in Tuesday night’s win over the Islanders, giving him eight points (3 goals, 5 assists), in his last two games. Teammate Mike Fisher has seven points (2 goals, 5 assists), in his last two games.

Black and Blue

Patrice Bergeron

Boston -- The Boston Globe reported center Patrice Bergeron was scheduled for an appointment with a neurologist Tuesday to determine whether his neck is causing the headaches he's been experiencing. Bergeron said he hopes to get back on the stationary bike later this week. The Bruins are also still missing their other alternate captain, forward Glen Murray, who is still on injured reserve with a hip flexor. Forward P.J. Axelsson is day-to-day with a foot injury. Defenseman Andrew Alberts, who is also on injured reserve with post-concussion syndrome, doesn’t seem to be improving. Alberts is still suffering from headaches related to the injury. Fellow blueliner Bobby Allen is day-to-day with back spasms.

Buffalo -- Forward Maxim Afinogenov remains on injured reserve with a groin injury. Forwards Tim Connolly (bone spur in hip), and Michael Ryan (eye) are day-to-day.

Montreal -- Defenseman Ryan O’Byrne is still on injured reserve with a broken thumb. Fellow defenseman Patrice Brisebois is day-to-day with a broken foot.

Ottawa -- Dany Heatley, recovering from a separated shoulder, has been skating with the team recently and could be back sooner than expected. Forward Patrick Eaves is sidelined again with a shoulder injury, and forward Brian McGrattan is also day-to-day with a shoulder injury.

Toronto -- The Maple Leafs took two more blows on the injury front this past week when it was revealed that forward Alexei Ponikarovsky could be out up to eight weeks with a right dislocated shoulder. Forward Alex Steen will miss up to two weeks with a separated right shoulder. Ponikarovsky was placed on injured reserve, and Steen is day-to-day. Forward Mark Bell is on injured reserve following surgery for a broken orbital bone. Forward Boyd Devereaux is day-to-day with a undisclosed injury.

The Week Ahead -- The Sabres are at Florida to face the Panthers tonight.

Thursday, the Canadiens play the tail end of a home-and-home at Washington. Meanwhile, Toronto is at Carolina and the Bruins and Senators hook-up for a divisional game in Ottawa.

Buffalo will be the lone Northeast team in action on Friday as it plays at Atlanta.

On Saturday, the Habs and Islanders play a 2 p.m. matinee at the Bell Centre; the Senators and Leafs renew their rivalry in Toronto. The Bruins host the Red Wings.

Montreal plays another matinee at home on Super Bowl Sunday when they host the Rangers in a 2 p.m. matchup, which will be broadcast on NBC.

The Bruins welcome in the Sabres for a Northeast tilt on Tuesday; the Leafs host the Panthers and the Senators and Canadiens meet in Montreal in a battle of the Northeast Division’s two top teams.




 

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