No reason to panic, yet

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

He spoke of ways his team can get better defensively.

He referred to improvements that need to be made in the offensive zone.

And, pending further review of the tapes, there may have even been a hint of dissatisfaction over an aspect of the goalie's game.

But Bryan Murray was best able to sum up his Senators with one bottom line during a post-practice media conference yesterday.

"We have to improve at hockey," stated the coach.

Yeah, that would be nice.

There's been considerable hair pulling and a bit of bandwagon bailing over the Senators uninspired, 1-2 start this season. Told of the fans' angst on post-game call-in shows yesterday, Jason Spezza had to chuckle.

"Are we mathematically eliminated yet?" he wondered.

A few feet away, Chris Kelly was doing a TV interview while Brian McGrattan provided the unnecessary distraction.

"Hey Kels, tell them about your right winger,"

McGrattan chirped. "Tell them about our chemistry. We've got good chemistry."

Finally, Kelly cracked.

"Are you done?" he said, breaking into the smile he had been trying to contain. "Do you really want the truth?"

Kidding aside, the Senators admit they are missing some chemistry right now. That, they say, has to do with the lack of practice time they've had together as a team. Kinda hard to work on a system and developing line combinations when you're playing nine exhibitions in 12 days, you know.

But with only four games in the next two weeks, that's about to change.

"We gave them a day off, then we tried to get some work in today with the puck and without the puck," said Murray, who did a lot of coaching during yesterday's 90-minute practice. "We're trying to get the tempo going again. In the next two weeks, we're going to try and get back to where we should be."

Question is, will the Senators ever be able to get back to where they were?

You knew before the NHL schedule reached the five-day-old mark that there's been a depletion of talent over the last couple of years -- but you were reminded nonetheless when you saw Martin Havlat and Marian Hossa atop the league scoring race, with Zdeno Chara and Brian Pothier also in the Top 20.

Still, an argument can be made that a slow start wouldn't exactly be a bad thing for the Senators this season. How closely were they listening to Murray's messages while cruising to a tone-setting, 19-3 start in 2005-06?

VOICE GETTING LOUDER

A few 'L's early on, they'll have to listen. Murray's voice already seems to be getting louder.

Even those who have confidence the offence will again return to elite form might, through three games, still have some serious doubts about the goaltending and the defence.

To them, we offer a simple reminder: Had the Senators decided to at least start this term with Ray Emery as their No. 1 goalie -- and you'll recall that he did a very good job as such in the second half of last season before wilting somewhat in the playoffs -- then they would have had plenty of money left over to re-sign Chara.

Do not fret, Senators fan. Your team should still be all right, as is. The talent is there to carry it to a 10th consecutive playoff appearance. Soon as that chemistry kicks in.

The thinking here is that the mentality has to improve, however. How they lost 6-0 to the Maple Leafs on home-opening night remains beyond comprehension -- as does the way they responded to that beating two days later, again in front of the home crowd.

Against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs only a few months earlier -- and with wounds still fresh from their encounter with Toronto -- the Senators were outshot 10-5 in the first period by Buffalo. In fact, they didn't really get going until midway through the second.

"It was that first play," captain Daniel Alfredsson said of a Henrik Tallinder goal 33 seconds into the game. "And then taking four penalties (in the first). It's not because the team wasn't ready."

Either way, in what should be a dogfight for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, they have to get better in a hurry.

They have to start improving at hockey.


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