Sens coach preaches positives

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:52 PM ET

OTTAWA - As he was leaving Scotiabank Place following Monday’s practice, Chris Phillips reminded a reporter why getting off to a good start is not mandatory to having a successful season.

He harkened back to 2007-08, when the Senators won just six of their first 17 games and then, some seven months later, participated in the Stanley Cup final.

“It’s not what you want,” Phillips said of struggles in October, and in that case even November. “But there’s a reason why we play 82 games.”

Those Senators of three years ago even suffered one particularly embarrassing defeat in autumn, as well — a 6-0 slaughter on home ice at the hands of the Maple Leafs. The score was only half as bad, but Saturday’s loss to the Canadiens had to be just as ugly. The Senators only had 19 shots on Carey Price, and just three in the third period, when they were supposedly trying to get back in the game. 

The effort level from the home team certainly did not appear to be anywhere near the ‘fill to this line’ mark.

While an old-school coach might have barked his players through a bag skate Monday — the Senators’ first day back at the rink since the debacle — Cory Clouston used a vastly different approach. He returned them to the basics of the system. He worked on breakouts. He had forwards supporting the defence after a turnover was created, which the Senators did not do against the Habs.

While some would think he should be cracking the whip on his horses, Clouston has patiently handled them with kid gloves.

“We didn’t give our defence a chance to get the puck up the ice to allow us to get the shots,” he said of his team’s most recent problems. “It’s tough to shoot the puck when you’re wasting too much energy in your defensive zone, and not putting pressure on them.”

Jason Spezza’s groin injury will likely keep him out Tuesday against the visiting Coyotes — one of three remaining games in a homestand that the Senators could still complete as a .500 team. They could also finish it with a 2-8-1 record, unless they change their ways.

Clouston is preaching the positive.

“The first two games really put us behind the 8-ball, as far as the confidence is concerned,” he said. “We weren’t ready, for whatever reason, to play those first two games. But the big thing is we are making improvements. We are a better team today than we were in Game 1 and Game 2. And hopefully by having good solid structured practices, understanding where the corrections need to be made, should give us confidence going into these games.

“Today was all about trying to build (the confidence) back up. Today was all about showing the guys where they worked hard, where they created the turnovers, where they did what we want them to do. It was also about what we didn’t do after that. Where we didn’t follow through with the structured play. It’s one thing working hard to come back and create the turnovers, but you have to be able to get on the attack.”

Ice Chips

The Coyotes will get captain Shane Doan back from a three-game suspension for Tuesday’s game. What that will do to the Phoenix line combinations is unclear ... Senators GM Bryan Murray did not watch Monday’s practice, opting instead to work the phones to see if there’s a deal to be made ... The Senators have a 12-11-2-0 record vs. Phoenix, including a 6-6-1 mark in Ottawa. The teams met just once last season. Ottawa fell 3-2 in Phoenix.

By The Numbers

The Ottawa power play has jumped to 17th in the NHL, heading into Monday’s games, with four goals on 31 chances, for a 12.9% success rate ... Before Monday’s game in Montreal, the Coyotes were ranked 27th in the league with the man advantage. They had scored just once on 14 chances (7.1%) ... Senators W Jarkko Ruutu needs two penalty minutes to reach the 1,000 mark for his career. He has played 587 games ... Senators W Chris Neil is the team leader in the PIMs category, with 1,511. He too has played 587 games ... The Senators have drawn an average of 18,640 fans through three home games.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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