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Hartsburg gives Sens a shake

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The new-look Ottawa Senators got another major makeover of sorts on Monday.

But this wasn't about another meticulous plan designed to change the overall face of the team. Rather, it was head coach Craig Hartsburg's pointed response to the Senators' play of late, most specifically a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place.

When the Sens hit the ice for practice on Monday morning at the Bell Sensplex, the changes were both jarring and obvious. Hartsburg had captain Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley surrounding centre Mike Fisher, while Jason Spezza found himself lined up alongside youngsters Nick Foligno and Jesse Winchester.

All of this followed a pre-practice team meeting in which Hartsburg stressed the need for his team to ratchet up its competitive level after what he deemed a series of three sub-par efforts since the Senators returned from their season-opening sojourn to Sweden.

When he spoke to the media about it afterward, Hartsburg's message was crystal clear.

"We have to change our identity as a team," he said. "Our identity right now is not (that) of a competing, hard-working, checking team and that has to change. If that doesn't change, then we won't have any success and that's the bottom line.

"We've got to fix this and the players are the solution to it. They are the solution."

Hartsburg has frequently used the word accountability since being hired as the Senators' bench boss. Consider today's message a rather vivid example of what that's about.

"It's something that we needed," Foligno said about the line shakeup. "We understand what happened the last game and how to fix it, and we want to make sure we have a better game Wednesday (when the Florida Panthers visit Scotiabank Place). We look at this shakeup as a positive thing. It's going to get guys going and get us going in the right direction."

Added Spezza: "(Hartsburg) is trying to get us to win hockey games. We want to win hockey games and we've got to try something a little different. This is a different way of trying to get scoring from different areas and I think it's a good idea."

Since earning three of a possible four points in Stockholm against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Senators have gone 1-2-0 in three outings at home. The Senators' best performance by far this season came in the second game in Sweden, a smothering effort at both ends of the ice in a 3-1 victory. At the time, some suggested it might have been a textbook example of the hockey Hartsburg wants his team to play this season. But he said that type of 60-minute performance has been missing since the Sens returned to North America.

"That's the frustrating part," said Hartsburg. "I can see what we can be if we do (the right) things. And I can see how bad we can be when we don't have that mindset. The three games here, other than in little spurts, we haven't seen enough of it. We need to take more pride in that part of our game. It has to be there.

"Yeah, we have some skill. But somebody who says we have more skill than any other team we play is wrong. Every night, we play a hockey team that's got as much skill as we do, so what's going to be the difference in a hockey game? Not just a system. It's about competing and playing the game with some passion, and we've got to pick that up."

Spezza agreed, saying "we have the potential to be a real good hockey club. He sees that and we see that. (Hartsburg) has been real direct with his message and we have a real good understanding of the team he wants us to be. Now we just have to get there."

Better that the message be delivered so early in the season, said Alfredsson.

"We're all in this together and we all want to win games," he said. "(Hartsburg) has played himself and he's been around hockey his whole life. He knows when you need to make adjustments or make changes.

"It's a signal to everybody: 'Wake up, we need to play better here.' It's still early in the season but you don't want to look back later and say 'maybe we should have done it earlier.' I think it's going to have a big effect."

Said Fisher: "None of us can be comfortable in our roles. We all have to give more."

Hartsburg liked the initial on-ice response he saw to his challenge.

"Today's practice was really good," he said. "I liked today's practice. They competed, they worked hard and they really did some good things."

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