Same mission, different approach

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

They walked around the hallways of Scotiabank Place yesterday like guys at a bad barber convention, white name tags on the chests of their black T-shirts.

"Hello, I'm ... Ryan Vesce."

No, folks, you won't recognize a lot of these Senators.

You needed a program -- and really good eyesight for the fine print -- to figure out who was who yesterday. There was no question there were different faces, a lot of them, and a different vibe to go with it.

The confident swagger that has marked the start of the last few training camps, the bold talk of winning Stanley Cups, is gone.

Truth is, the strut's been slapped off them.

Too many pre-seasons of high expectations, too many awesome regular seasons followed by short, hollow springs will do that.

Not too far away from where Buffalo Sabres rookie Jason Pominville skated around Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden to end Ottawa's season last spring with a short-handed goal, Senators coach Bryan Murray sampled the air.

"I notice the difference, too," he said. "Just walking through, there doesn't seem to be that cockiness that appeared to be there (last year).

"From a coaching perspective, starting camp and going through the process, let's prove rather than have to prove. Let's just prove that we're a good hockey club."

There were a lot of different rooms set up yesterday: For medicals, strength testing, dental and eye exams, blood taking, the neuro psych test and media guide and promotional headshots.

There should have been one marked "attitude adjustment."

With the personnel changes made this summer -- the departure of Zdeno Chara, Martin Havlat, Dominik Hasek, Vaclav Varada, Bryan Smolinski, etc. -- this Senators team won't be as skilled as some in the past.

But you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing. Really, what's all that skill got them so far?

A team whose claim to fame to this point is "We would have gone to the Stanley Cup final three years ago except we screwed up a 2-on-1 in the last two minutes of Game 7 of the conference final?"

What's to be smug about?

TIME FOR OPTIMISM?

Beating the Maple Leafs or Islanders seven regular-season games in a row?

Maybe they could try, say, outworking the other team?

Hitting the guys in the other sweaters more than they got hit?

Finding a way, any way, some way, to score the big goal when a big game is in the balance?

Sorry.

It's the first day of camp. It's the time for optimism, right?

Murray now has the chance to make a point.

The players often tried it their way last year.

Now they'll try it his.

"I think at times players got off on their own little agenda," he said. "We all knew we had a pretty good talent level here, but we maybe didn't work as hard (as we had to), we were a little more careless at times.

"We didn't handle the adversity very well when we lost Hasek going into the playoffs. We had that bad game against Buffalo and it really affected us way too much."

So?

Where to from there?

"I think there's a real need," said Murray, "for this team to get back to the blue-collar approach. Work hard in practice and prove yourself every night."

The Senators are just another team now, or at least that's the way they should be perceived. A good team with the potential to be great if a lot of things go their way, like they did for the Sabres or Oilers or the Stanley Cup-champion Hurricanes.

Like they can for a whole bunch of teams in this salary-cap era.

How good depends how well they buy into Murray's message.

"Being regarded as just another member of the league eases the pressure. That's what you want to have happen, ease the pressure somewhat," said Murray. "There's more of a comfort level then for the players to come in and just get ready for the season."

OFF TO HOCKEYTOWN

Hasek and his adductor have left for Hockeytown and that's a positive right there. No more waiting for the other groin to fall.

Martin Gerber takes his place.

"At the high end, he's not Hasek, but a consistent, very technically sound goaltender and I think the players will really appreciate that and they'll be able to trust him to the ultimate," said Murray.

"Injuries do happen, all that stuff, but his history is he will be a real good goaltender for us."

Around the corner from where Murray had spoken, Senators GM John Muckler had just finished holding court with the media.

He maybe summed it up the best.

"The approach is different," he said, noting the lack of over-the-top Cup talk.

"But the mission is still the same."

Nice way to put it.


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