|Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray's re-emergence behind the bench didn't provide the spark he was looking for in his team's 3-1 loss to Philadelphia.|
Murray, also the Senators’ general manager, was back behind the bench Thursday night for the first time since his team lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring — and one night after he fired John Paddock following a slump that has dropped Ottawa out of first place in the Eastern Conference. The move looked good for a while — the Senators took a 1-0 lead on Jason Spezza’s goal early in the second period — but Mike Knuble’s two goals helped the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-1 victory, Ottawa’s third straight loss.
"I see lots of things that have to be done, but it's kind of where the action is and I didn't mind it," Murray said of his team’s play. "It's not something that I was really looking forward to doing, but in a couple of days I'll feel better about it, I think."
The Senators won 15 of their first 17 games to get the jump on the East. But they’ve been in a tailspin for weeks. Thursday’s loss was their seventh in nine games and 15th in their last 22. They’ve dropped behind New Jersey in the Eastern Conference and are struggling to hold off Montreal for first place in the Northeast Division.
"We weren't as coordinated as I'd like to see and I think we will be," Murray said of his team’s play. "As far as attitude and that, the guys were good. It's just disappointing that we can't score more than one goal."
The Flyers are recovering after their own struggles. Their second straight win after 10 consecutive losses moved them back into the eighth and final playoff berth in the East. Philadelphia and Buffalo each have 71 points, but the Flyers have one more victory.
“We need to get a winning streak together,” said captain Jason Smith. “We are competing at a high level right now. That’s two [in a row], and we need to keep playing well.”
Spezza scored Ottawa’s first goal in three games at 6:33 of the middle period when he blocked goalie Martin Biron’s view and deflected Andrej Meszaros’ shot into the net during a power play. Spezza turned his back to Biron and raised his arms in celebration, but Biron shoved him in the back. Spezza spun around and Biron pushed him again in the chest. Flyers and Senators converged in front for a brief skirmish. Biron earned a roughing penalty, and Spezza was hit with a major for butt-ending with his stick and was ejected.
“Plain and simple, he is in our building and celebrating at the top of my crease,” Biron said of what ended up being a turning point in the game. “And celebrating for one-one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand by himself, just showing me up in front of everybody — I did not like it, and I was not going to accept that.”
Murray said he was "dumbfounded" that Spezza was tossed after the center was the one who was hit from behind.
"I thought, in an incident like that, it certainly didn't have to be a game misconduct," Murray said.
Knuble untied it 41 seconds into the third period when Smith’s shot hit his shin pad and went into the net. He got his second goal at 6:30 when Scottie Upshall’s power-play jam shot deflected off him and was pushed over the goal line when Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden lost his edge and fell into the crease.
The win was the Flyers’ first at home since a 3-0 victory over Anaheim on Feb. 2, and the back-to-back wins this week have brought optimism back to the locker room.
“When you put two in a row together confidence starts to grow,” center Danny Briere said. “If we are able to get a third one, it will just continue to grow and grow. We know we can do it because we had been on a really good stretch before we hit that winless streak.”