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Sens, Murray starting over

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Today is the first day of the rest of the Ottawa Senators’ season.

And, head coach/general manager Bryan Murray believes, there’s no better time to pull the plug on the pressure that has been mounting daily on the team over the past six weeks.

Since a 3-2 home-ice victory over the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings back on Jan. 13, the Senators have skidded into a 7-12-2 tailspin that led to the dismissal of head coach John Paddock on Wednesday. Along the way, Ottawa slipped to second place in the Eastern Conference — two points back of the New Jersey Devils — and has seen its Northeast Division edge over the Montreal Canadiens slashed to a single point.

Murray, who guided the Senators to the Stanley Cup final last season, moves back behind the bench at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia for Thursday night’s fourth and final matchup of the season with the Flyers (7 p.m., Sens TV, Team 1200).

His message to the team before the pre-game skate was a simple one.

“Just work,” he said. “Just have a little fun with this game. Work hard and play your position. Really, that’s what hockey is and if you do it right and have a little emotion going in, you should be competitive.”

The Senators enter tonight’s game on the heels of back-to-back shutout losses and desperate for some offence. That, in turn, has led to breakdowns in the defensive zone around their goaltenders.

“I think what happened is we tried so hard to score goals that we gave up any awareness of what we had to do without the puck,” said Murray. “It ends up costing you all the time. The clips I showed them (at a team meeting) this morning were good defensive plays turning into attacking situations. There’s no secret to hockey. It’s exactly that.”

Murray had a lengthy chat after practice with captain Daniel Alfredsson about the mental state of the team. He’s hopeful that, with trade deadline acquisition Martin Lapointe — a 15-year veteran — making his debut tonight, they’ll approach the game with a more relaxed attitude.

“I think what happens – and I’ve been in the same situation – is that when you lose some games and the pressure mounts and it’s mainly pressure from within, where people start to question things … It’s hard to play,” said Murray. “It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to coach. You’re always worried about every little mistake or every little referee’s call. You don’t play the way you’re capable of playing.

“As I said to the group, this is as good or better as the team we had last year. We’ve got some grit now, we’ve got some guys who are a little bigger and stronger. We just have to find a way to get it out of them. I just think, in a couple of games here and (after) a couple of practices, they’ll feel a lot better about themselves.”

Around the boards

Ray Emery (12-10-4) makes the start in goal for the Senators tonight … Defencemen Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips, who both sat out practice Wednesday with cold/flu symptoms, are expected to play tonight … Fewer than 50 tickets remain for Saturday’s game with the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Place (3 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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