|Captain Daniel Alfredsson says the Senators must focus on one game at a time if they're to battle their way back into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Bryan Murray isn't wavering in his belief that he's assembled a quality team in the nation's capital.
But the Senators general manager, who was away on a scouting trip when Ottawa dropped back-to-back decisions to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend, has made it clear that the time is now for this group to start living up to the potential he felt it had at the outset of the 2010-11 National Hockey League season.
"We should be a better team," Murray said following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "I think our performance in some of the games lately has not been nearly adequate. I met with the coaches this morning and I met with the players this morning. And I indicated that we are not happy. We are very unhappy.
"What I believe we’re all obligated to do in this business is to work hard. We’re all obligated to put our best foot forward on as many days as we possibly can. I don’t think we’ve done that to the level that we should have and we’re not happy about it. Going forward, I hope that’s not the case any longer ... We have a team that has to play better. And I believe this team is good enough to play better."
Murray also suggested that, with the constrictions of the current salary cap, it isn't likely that a major trade can be engineered to reverse the fortunes of a Senators team (16-19-5) that currently sits 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight points shy of a playoff position. Friday's game in Chicago against the Blackhawks (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) marks the halfway point of the Ottawa schedule.
However, if the Senators have fallen out of playoff contention as the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline approaches, Murray said it's possible he'll consider dealing away some of the team's current assets, a number of whom have expiring contracts at the end of this season.
"When you don’t win, you have to have an idea about what you want to do going forward and we have that," said Murray. "If we win some games here and stay in contention, we have a plan for that. If we don’t win some games going forward and we’re getting close to the (trade) deadline, there’s a lot of (our) players that might be asked about and then I have to consider it."
"What I believe we’re all obligated to do in this business is to work hard. We’re all obligated to put our best foot forward on as many days as we possibly can. I don’t think we’ve done that to the level that we should have and we’re not happy about it. Going forward, I hope that’s not the case any longer ... We have a team that has to play better. And I believe this team is good enough to play better." - Bryan Murray
It's a message that has resonated around the Senators dressing room, where the feeling has been equally frustrating over the first half of the current campaign.
"(Murray) is confident in this group, but we have to be better," said veteran defenceman Chris Phillips
. "We can't be sitting here waiting for somebody to make moves or make something happen. It's up to us to be better and take it upon ourselves to expect the most out of each and every guy to turn things around."
For head coach Cory Clouston and his crew, it all begins with Friday's visit to the United Center to tangle with the Stanley Cup champions. No easy chore for a Senators team that is 3-1-2 in its last six road outings.
"Our whole focus right now is trying to win a game in Chicago," said Clouston. "We're making sure we have good practices, we're talking to the players we need to talk and addressing the issues that we need to. Our whole focus in on the game in Chicago."
Added captain Daniel Alfredsson
: "For us now, it's just a matter of working hard and looking at it day by day. We can't look too far ahead and think if we don't win eight out of the next 10, (the team) is going to be dismantled. We've just got to try to win the next one.
"This group feels we can turn it around and we're going to keep working toward that ... (Murray) knows the potential of this team and we're obviously not living up to it. We have to make sure we go out there and just work hard (with) energy and enthusiasm."Around the boards
After taking part in half of today's practice with his teammates, goaltender Pascal Leclaire (lower body) declared it "a good first step" toward a return to the lineup. "I'm still a few days away, for sure," he said. "It feels a little better. The last four or five days, I've been making progress every day, so I've got to make sure I don't blow my tires too quick and do too much. I'm trying to push it to the limit every day and so far, so good." ... Murray hasn't ruled out the possibility of summoning Robin Lehner
, the organization's top goaltending prospect, from the Binghamton Senators to the big club at some point this season. Lehner is currently tending goal for Sweden at the IIHF 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship but will return to Ottawa's American Hockey League affiliate tomorrow. "What I'd like to do is let (Lehner) play back in Binghamton over the weekend amd see how we do and make a decision based on that," said Murray ... The Senators return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... Also Saturday, tickets
for all home games in February, March and April go on sale at 10 a.m.