Zoned-out Sens look to refocus

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

As much as people want to make hockey sound like a complicated game by activating the defence or distributing the puck, it's pretty simple.

Five guys playing together are going to beat five guys who aren't and the Senators have been on both sides of the razor's edge this season.

Also, while it might be counterintuitive, as far as Senators coach John Paddock is concerned, the most important area is not around the nets where goals are scored.

It's the ice farthest from the nets.

That's why yesterday and again today at practice, the Senators will concentrate on five guys playing together in the neutral zone.

Sounds boring, but people want to know what's wrong with the Senators.

That's one area pinpointed by the coaches.

"You can make any area of the game or the rink out to be the most important. If you don't have good special teams, you can't win," said Paddock. "If you don't have goaltending, you can't win. If you don't take care of the front of the net, you can't win. That's all true.

"But a lot of teams and hockey people believe if you control the neutral zone, you control the game, you control the flow of it, you dictate the momentum of it and I think that's really true."

The Senators haven't been controlling much of anything lately, having been outscored 19-14 during the last five games in which they are 1-3-1.

There are pretty much only two or three ways to attack playing in the neutral zone, but you need all five guys in the picture -- literally -- to make any of them work.

If there's an area where the Senators have fallen down lately, it's that they have been too spread out on the ice.

The first signs of it came against the Sabres a couple of weeks ago. The Senators won that one, but as often is the case near the end of streaks, when it's going well, you win some you shouldn't and when it's going bad, you lose some you probably deserve to win.

Paddock saw it coming.

"We got spread out on the ice and they were able to attack easier on the rush," said Paddock.

"We've lost a little of our neutral zone game, our transition game. If I was going to point to an area that we need to play better in our team game, that would be it."

You can call it teamwork, accountability, trust, support ... whatever.

"That means five guys thinking along the same lines. You have to have five guys in the same zone at the same time," said Paddock.

"The defencemen can't be up in the neutral zone if the forwards aren't putting some back pressure on or are in position. If the forwards are doing that and the defencemen are lagging their butts 10 feet inside the blue line, that doesn't work, either. If one guy isn't doing it, either a forward or a 'D,' the defencemen say, 'I can't stand up because there's nobody back,' and some nights the forwards are saying, 'I'm pressuring this guy back all the way, what's the defenceman doing 10 feet inside the blue line?' At different times, they're both right."

Paddock likes to point to the Senators' 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Nov. 6 as one of the best examples of outstanding neutral zone play.

You can call it defence, but what it really comes down to is when the other team has the puck, how are you going to get it back?

The Senators' fifth goal that night was scored by Chris Kelly and it came after Antoine Vermette came back hard in the neutral zone, causing a turnover. He tapped it back to defenceman Andrej Meszaros, who fired it up ice.

"We stopped them and scored five seconds later," said Paddock.

So, there you go. For those of you who think the Senators' problems are in or around the nets, you're off by about 100 feet.

HEAR AND THERE: Paddock said RW Patrick Eaves will be out at least a month with a separated shoulder.


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