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Senators determined to improve their position

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators head coach Cory Clouston hopes to draw on some of the coaching lessons he first learned at the University of Alberta, where the team practised today in advance of Saturday's matchup with the Edmonton Oilers (Ottawa Senators Hockey League).

As he stood inside one of his old hockey haunts, Cory Clouston couldn't help being reminded of a certain winning hockey environment.

"I spent four years playing here and we had good teams," the Ottawa Senators head coach said after conducting practice today at Clare Drake Arena on the campus of the University of Alberta, where he was part of a national championship team with the Golden Bears back in 1992. "We had a really good group of guys — I still keep in touch with a bunch of them."

He also got his coaching start at the school alongside Bill Moores, an Edmonton coaching legend. The experience, Clouston said today, provided "my foundation of coaching." And it's some of those lessons he'll attempt to draw upon as he guides his current team through the final stages of a season that his drifted far off its intended course.

While the trade of popular centre Mike Fisher to the Nashville Predators on Thursday signalled the start of the organization's shift toward a new future, there is still a season to finish out. And Clouston is determined that his team find a way out of its current 11-game winless streak, which has dropped the Senators (17-30-8) into the Eastern Conference basement.

"Our team now is kind of moving in a little bit different direction and I’ve got to make sure our young guys are getting developed as well as they possibly can," said Clouston. "And we’re still trying to win hockey games. Our last two practices, our intensity has been as good as it’s been all season. I thought today was another real good practice and we just have to keep putting our best foot forward."

If anything, Ottawa's current placement in the standings is motivation enough to reverse their situation starting with tomorrow's matinee matchup against the Western Conference's cellar dwellers, the Edmonton Oilers, at Rexall Place (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). It's the opener of CBC's annual Hockey Day in Canada and the Senators want to give a national television audience a glimpse of the team they still truly believe they're capable of being.

"We are where we are in the standings (and) it’s tough to see that," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips. "We all believe we’re a better hockey team than that, but the fact is we haven’t shown that or done that. It’s tough that we’ve put ourselves in that position but in saying that, we can’t dwell on what we’ve done this season or what people say outside of the dressing room.

"We’ve got to stick together, stay positive and take it a game at a time trying to get out of this streak that we’re on right now."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "We just want to get a win however we can get it. You don’t want to be at the bottom of the league, we never expected to be in this position and hopefully, we’re not staying here. We’ve got to make sure we come out (Saturday), get a win and get some confidence. We haven’t won a game in a little while and it would be a good feeling going home."

Centre Chris Kelly suggested a return to simpler times might be just the tonic for what currently ails the Senators.

"We just need to get back to playing hockey like we did as kids and going to the minor tournaments," he said. "All you wanted to do was win and maybe get a trophy. We need to get back to that, just coming to the rink and preparing the right way and playing the game the right way and going out there to win.

"We want to get back to that winning way. This trip hasn't gone the way we wanted it to go, but we've got to look forward and can't dwell in the past. We've got to focus on tomorrow's game."

Around the boards

With Fisher gone and captain Daniel Alfredsson (lower back) on the injury list, Spezza and Kelly will join Phillips in wearing the alternate captain's 'A' for the time being. "It's something I have to take upon myself, to be more of a leader here," said Spezza, who will play his 500th career National Hockey League game on Saturday. "That's what I want on this team. I want to be able to help things out and get us out of this." ... Defenceman Matt Carkner (lower body) won't play Saturday. "There might be some ups and downs for the rest of the season with him," Clouston said of an injury that's been nagging the big blueliner in recent weeks. "So we're going to have to gauge that and monitor that on more of a daily basis." ... Clouston's best memory of Alberta's championship run in 1992? Scoring a hat trick against perennial powerhouse UQTR (Trois-Rivieres) at the Canadian university nationals. He talks more about his time with the Golden Bears in this video on Sens TV.

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