Paddock on fans' hotseat

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Of the more than 20,000 chairs in Scotiabank Place, none is currently warmer than that which is occupied by John Paddock.

The Senators coach has become a target for fans venting their frustrations over the team's poor play.

Some are crying for the return of Bryan Murray, who brought Ottawa to the Stanley Cup final last spring before stepping into the GM's role and promoting Paddock to take his place as bench boss. All are wondering exactly how the Senators could fritter away a 16-3 start -- from which they looked poised for a wire-to-wire run as conference leaders -- to a stagger that has them 18-22 ever since.

And, oh yes, that first-place stranglehold? It's slipping through their fingers. The Senators now have but a piece of top spot, sharing it with the Canadiens and Devils. By 10 p.m. tonight, they could be fourth in the East. All it would take is a loss to the Flyers at SBP and the Habs defeating the Rangers in Montreal.

And so it is that -- in a spoiled part of the globe that labels itself Hockey Country -- the legions are both panicking and calling for the coach's scalp.

"Everybody's got their opinion and that's fine," said Daniel Alfredsson. "That's just the way it is, that's part of pro sports. But when you're winning, guys are playing well, you're doing the little things. When you're losing, it's still us playing the game.

"It's a team thing. We're in this together. We believe in each other," added the captain. "We've been successful together and we believe we can be there again. Obviously, people are going to start looking at it. Why is this not going better? Why is this not working? And that's fine. But as far as coming from the locker room, and coming from the coaching staff, we're going to stick together. We're obviously going to answer all the questions, but I don't think you're going to hear any controversy."

ADVOCATE OF CHANGE

Paddock is a strong advocate of change. A change in the way the team is playing, primarily in its own zone. Only seven teams have allowed more goals than the Senators this season.

"I think there's an urgency building," Paddock said when asked if he's starting to feel the heat personally. "Pressure just comes regularly with the job. We somewhat rightly have reasons or justified different things that happen at different times, as to why things go the way they go. We've been saying 'play right' all the time. Set the tone and pace and compete. Play like we're supposed to play and I think everything falls into place. Whether that's finishing first or second or whatever it is. Just play how we can play and we're a good enough team to be the Eastern representative (in the Cup final)."

Meanwhile, the Flyers have issues of their own. Sandbagged by injury, they have lost now lost seven in a row. They'll hope the Senators, who they're 2-0 against this season, will be the cure for what ails them.

"Not to take anything off us or any team else it's happened to, but this is just a regular occurrence in the Eastern Conference, or you could even say leaguewide now, with Detroit losing six in a row," said Paddock. "Philadelphia was like this going into Christmas, then they won about nine out of 10. But what Philly's doing right now, other than what happens (tonight), is not a concern to me. I just want to see us getting playing right."

From both coaches and players, there's hope the threat of losing a grip on first will snap the Senators to attention.

"Obviously that was our goal all along, to win as many games as you can, finish as high as you can," said Wade Redden, one of the team's top performers in a 3-2 loss to New Jersey on Saturday. "But I think right now, our game has obviously slipped a bit and I think our main focus has got to be just doing things that make us successful. The results will come. I don't think we can sit there worrying about other teams catching us or looking at the standings every morning. That's not going to really help anything. We've got to just come to the rink ready to go."

And start executing, before their coach gets hung out to dry.


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