|Senators general manager Bryan Murray has liked the character Chris Neil and his teammates have shown in trying to salvage their season after a poor start (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images).
Bryan Murray knows there is no escaping the reality of the situation.
"We're pretty desperate," the Ottawa Senators general manager said this morning in the wake of his team's 2-1 loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday night.
With only nine games remaining, the 12th-place Senators (32-31-10, 74 points) still find themselves nine points behind the Montreal Canadiens, who hold down the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. In between are the Florida Panthers (81 points), Buffalo Sabres (78) and Toronto Maple Leafs (75).
The Sabres, who rallied to shock the Panthers 5-3 on Wednesday night, also play the Leafs and Canadiens before the week is out. That kind of scheduling also doesn't do a lot to help the Senators' cause.
"Now you have to win pretty much every game and hope that the other teams ahead of us don't win," said Murray. "And when they play each other, that's almost impossible. But you hope it balances out, that you can still have the idea and the players have the idea that they're playing for something.
"No, 1, let's stay in a race if we possibly can and show what we're made of. And No. 2, lots of guys will be playing to see where they fit (here) going forward."
When Murray relieved former head coach Craig Hartsburg of his duties on Feb. 1 and replaced him with Cory Clouston the following day, the Senators were a 17-24-7 team that had all but played itself out of post-season contention. But Murray has been impressed with what has transpired since then, with Ottawa going 15-7-3 under Clouston's direction.
"All along, realistically, they all said 'let's just play,'" said Murray. "They knew the odds of making the playoffs were long against them. They still are. But I think we found out with this group that there is some real character. There are some guys who want to show that they can contribute in this league.
"From the coaching staff's point of view, I think they're going to provide the best game plan and best challenge they possibly can every night. The challenge for a few guys, definitely, is to see where they fit going forward and I'm sure they'll play accordingly."
"All along, realistically, they all said 'let's just play.' They knew the odds of making the playoffs were long against them. They still are. But I think we found out with this group that there is some real character. There are some guys who want to show that they can contribute in this league." - Bryan Murray
Even if the Senators don't extend their run of playoff participation to 12 years, Murray said he won't consider this a lost season.
"The way we played and got so far behind... I think the lessons learned from that by every person in the organization should be such that we wouldn't let it happen again to the point that it did," he said. "You're going to lose some games over the course of time but I think we just let it slip away on us for too long.
"I guess it's been a remarkable turnaround, really, when you have a stretch (like this) where we've been competitive every night. Even (Wednesday) night, you lose 2-1 but we were very, very competitive and certainly had a chance to win the hockey game."Hamel reaches milestone for B-Sens
With an assist in the Binghamton Senators' 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phantoms on Wednesday night, left-winger Denis Hamel reached a career milestone. Hamel became the 75th player in American Hockey League history to record 500 points. He has 267 goals and 233 assists in 629 career AHL games. Hamel is also the B-Sens' all-time leader in goals (180), assists (157) and points (337).Around the boards
The Senators travelled this morning to Atlanta, where they'll face the Thrashers on Saturday (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200). Their current road trip wraps up with games on Sunday (at Tampa Bay), Tuesday (at Florida) and April 2 (at Boston) ... The Senators return to Scotiabank Place on April 4 to face the Philadelphia Flyers. Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for that game.