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MacLean not consistent enough with young Senators

by Arpon Basu

Paul MacLean lost faith in the Ottawa Senators.

Not the organization, but the players wearing the uniform.

He admitted as much, even if he was joking, when he said that he was scared to death of who he was putting in his own lineup during a session with reporters in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

But even before MacLean uttered those ultimately fateful words, his lack of faith was clear.

No Senators player this season, with the exceptions of captain Erik Karlsson and top forwards Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur, had a clearly defined role. As was suggested by general manager Bryan Murray in explaining his decision to fire MacLean on Monday, this lack of consistency in usage was most striking among the Senators' young players.

The Senators have nearly all of their first-round draft picks in the NHL Draft since 2009 playing in the NHL this season: defenseman Jared Cowen (2009), center Mika Zibanejad (2011), defenseman Cody Ceci (2012) and center Curtis Lazar (2013).

The future, in many ways, is now for the Senators.

Zibanejad is playing his third full season in the NHL. He was the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft and has come to life offensively of late with seven points in his past four games, including a four-point outburst in a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, MacLean's final game behind the Ottawa bench.

Zibanejad's most common linemate at even strength this season has been Bobby Ryan, and yet Zibanejad has spent less than half of his total even-strength minutes on the ice playing with Ryan, according to As a point of comparison, Turris has spent a little more than 87 percent of his even-strength minutes with MacArthur at his side.

The same is true of Ceci. His most common defense partner has been Cowen, yet they have played together for 43.5 percent of Ceci's total even-strength ice time.

Cowen, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch seven times and has had his ice time fluctuate from a season low of 13:37 to a high of 27:59.

Lazar is a rookie who is still eligible to play in junior, but made the team with a strong training camp and has proven he belongs. Yet he also has not gotten the stability a young player needs to succeed.

You could go through the same exercise with a number of young players on the Senators and come up with the same issue. Patrick Wiercioch, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Alex Chiasson and Eric Gryba have all gone through the same thing this season.

MacLean was never able to find a set of lines and defense pairs that he was willing to go with on a consistent basis, and when you have a lineup dotted with so many young players, that's not a good environment for learning.

The challenge for MacLean's replacement, Dave Cameron, will be to come up with some combinations and give them time to grow.

Murray mentioned Cameron's history as a teacher and a successful junior coach, both in the Ontario Hockey League and on the international level for Canada, so he should be able to better relate to the young core of the Senators.

However, Murray was also very clear that the principal reason the coaching switch was made was because he and his management team believed the Senators had the talent to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That's going to be a difficult balancing act for Cameron to pull off.

On the one hand, he needs to create a stable environment that will allow his young players to thrive, familiarity with regular teammates that can breed success. At the same time, Cameron will need to keep an eye on the standings, because the mandate from Murray to reach the playoffs was very clear.

Oftentimes, doing both those things at once is a tough trick.

Step One in the coach's handbook to shake a team out of a slump is switching up the lines, yet the Senators have had a steady stream of that all season.

That's why the coming week will be so important for Cameron, and his knowledge of the team as an assistant coach the past three-plus seasons will be such a valuable asset.

Cameron surely has his own ideas of how the lineup should be organized, of which players can handle more responsibility, and he will have his first opportunity to implement them at practice Tuesday.

The Senators have a number of problems that have led to their mediocre season thus far, many of which were outlined by Murray in explaining his decision Monday. They are one of the worst possession teams in the NHL, their goaltenders are forced to make far too many saves, and the offense is not nearly potent enough to compensate.

But a degree of cohesiveness in their lineup could help, and the sooner Cameron can come up with a lineup he can live with, the better.

It would be a nice change of pace in Ottawa.

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