'Chara was the Senators'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

How much has the loss of giant defenceman Zdeno Chara hurt the Senators?

Canadiens blueliners Sheldon Souray and Craig Rivet told Montreal reporters that Chara's departure to the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent last summer has been devastating.

Preparing to face the Senators for the third time this season tonight at Scotiabank Place, the Habs were asked if they were surprised to see Ottawa close to the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 6-9-1 record.

Souray and Rivet said people need look no further than Chara to figure out why the club has made a plunge.

"I never expected to see the Ottawa Senators so far down in the standings," Souray said following a practice yesterday in Thornhill. "I knew that losing a guy like Chara was big, but I never thought it would hit them that hard ... No offence to Tom Preissing, but those skates were big to fill."

That's when Rivet chimed in.

"Chara was the Ottawa Senators," said Rivet. "When we were preparing to play them, we were not thinking about (Jason) Spezza, (Dany) Heatley or (Daniel) Alfredsson. I know they're 100-point players, but Chara was that team. We were preparing to face Zdeno Chara."

The Senators tried to keep Chara in the off-season, but couldn't compete with the five-year, $37.5-million US deal he got from the Bruins. The transition to Boston hasn't been easy for Chara either. He's a minus player and has been guilty of trying to do too much.

Souray says part of the reason the Senators have blown so many leads is due to the absence of Chara.

Of course, sub-par goaltending from Martin Gerber and a groin injury to defenceman Wade Redden haven't helped matters.

"Look at the way they are losing two- and three-goal leads in the third," said Souray. "When they were winning 1-0 or 2-0 with 10 minutes to go in the third, you knew it was over because Chara was on the ice almost all the time."

HELPING GERBER: Expect to see Senators goalie coach Ron Low show up in town sometime soon because Gerber is in distress. The third goal Gerber allowed against the Bruins in Saturday's 4-3 loss to W Glen Murray was lousy, but it's typical of the way things have been going for Gerber this season. Former Chicago and 67's G Darren Pang, a colour analyst on Coyotes broadcasts, said he believes Gerber has gotten away from playing his style. "The thing I've noticed is that he's not standing up to challenge the shooter until that second. That's what goalies who play that style (under renowned goalie coach) Francois Allaire usually do and I just find when I look at him, he looks small," said Pang. "If you look at him right now, he's not playing with any confidence and they've got to get him to a point where he can get his confidence back." How do you do that? Sportsnet analyst John Garrett, another former NHL goalie, believes Ottawa coach Bryan Murray has to deliver a positive message. "If I were Bryan, I would haul out tapes from the way he played in the first three months of the season last year with Carolina and show him what he was doing to be successful," Garrett said from Vancouver. "My guess is, what Gerber would find out is that he was standing up all the time. I've always been a fan of his, but I watch him now and he's down in the net."

AROUND THE GLASS: Senators RW Chris Neil has been the club's best player of late and was solid against the Bruins on Saturday. "When you play the Bruins, they are big on the blue line and they take the body and Chris Neil shows up real well in those types of games," said Murray. "He's not afraid to go to the net and finish his checks and battle for loose pucks." ... Here's a shocker: Habs C Radek Bonk hasn't scored in 10 games and the club isn't happy with him.


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