Sens unglued minus big horses

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After a day spent at the horse farm of owner Eugene Melnyk, the Senators tonight will continue to answer the question people in hockey are asking:

Are they thoroughbreds made of champions' stuff or just another nag in the pack, one step ahead of the glue factory?

It is the question hanging over a team which has lost four out of its last five games, the last an embarrassing capitulation to the Flyers and Steve Downie in Philadelphia.

The Senators have looked disinterested and emotionally detached lately.

Okay, they are missing arguably their two best players in captain Daniel Alfredsson -- often their emotional bellwether -- and Dany Heatley, a difference-maker with his scoring prowess.

Any team might struggle without two such important players.

But given the opportunity, the rest of the Senators have pretty much just given up without much of a fight.

You would have thought the prospect of a chance to at least breathe on Downie -- who knocked Senators veteran Dean McAmmond out in the pre-season with a hit that got him a 20-game suspension -- would have injected a little emotion into their game. Nope.

The Senators went down meekly to the Flyers, though they did get a goal, a 100% improvement after being shut out at home by the last-place Lightning on Saturday night.

DEADLINE LOOMS

What Senators GM Bryan Murray and coach John Paddock must now consider is what kind of overhaul this team needs with the trade deadline a month from this weekend's all-star break.

It's not out of the question the Senators could run into injuries to big, important players in the playoffs.

"That could happen in May. What are you going to do? Just fold the tents?" wondered Paddock yesterday when asked how the team's play of late might affect Murray's trade deadline strategy. "Or do you need more guys who just aren't going to fold the tents? I think he probably has a bit of a concern in his mind."

The fact is, the Senators -- with or without the likes of Alfredsson and Heatley -- have a mediocre record since that blazing 15-2 start.

Take those games out of the mix and the Senators have lost more of the 31 games they have played since than they have won (15 wins since Nov. 17; 15-12-4 record).

The reason is stunningly clear. For whatever reasons -- and there are a few -- the Senators are awful defensively.

They have slipped to 20th in the NHL with 2.77 GAA. The league-leading Red Wings have given up 60 even-strength goals in 49 games. The Senators have given up 88 in 48 games.

DEFENSIVE HELP?

Maybe the Senators don't need another top-six forward.

Maybe they need a top-six defenceman.

You could blame the defensive slide on the fact the Senators haven't had a goaltender step up, but anybody watching the games can see the kind of chances the Senators are giving up.

How long did the puck sit in the slot a couple of times Sunday night?

How many battles have the Senators won lately?

Defence is playing smart and playing hard.

"I think there needs to be a little bit of soul-searching on how hard you want to play the game," said Paddock, who will meet with players individually and as a group before tonight's game.

"I don't think there's enough urgency, I don't think there's enough desire to step up and just win the game no matter how you win it."

Alfredsson will test his sore hip today at the morning skate and will make a decision on whether he will play then.

But the fact is the Senators' problems run deeper than missing their captain.

Time is running our for Paddock and Murray to figure out what can or needs to be done.

Yea or neigh?


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