Splitsville for Senators

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

The card is supposed to be one a coach can play only so often before it loses its effect, yet Craig Hartsburg is waiting no longer to slam it down on the table.

In a pre-practice meeting with his team yesterday, the Senators coach tore into players for the lack of heart they've shown thus far thorough most of a 2-2-1 start. Hartsburg, who's been in a foul mood since Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, followed the stern lecture by revamping his lines.

Most noteworthy was his move to split up the dynamic offensive duo of Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, bumping the latter between rookie Jesse Winchester and Nick Foligno, a veteran of just 50 NHL games.

Elevated to first-line status between Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson was Mike Fisher, who has zero points in three games played to date.

The new combinations are expected to remain intact tomorrow at Scotiabank Place against the Florida Panthers.

"I certainly don't like the way we played, to tell you the truth, the last three games," Hartsburg started off in his address to the media. "I don't think our level of work and competing and desperation is high enough. I think we've got players that need to get out of the comfort zone and start to realize they need to battle harder. Battle to stay on lines, battle to stay in the lineup.

"We have got to change our identity as a team. Our identity right now is not a hard- working, competing, checking team. If it doesn't change, we won't have any success."

Hartsburg, who also moved Jarkko Ruutu to a right-wing spot beside Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette, refused to discuss whether defenceman/left winger Christoph Schubert would return to the lineup after two games as a healthy scratch. Yesterday, Schubert skated on a fourth line with Dean McAmmond and rotating right wingers Shean Donovan and Chris Neil.

Asked about separating Spezza and Heatley, Hartsburg's mind was clearly still focused on the Boston game. Spezza had no points and one shot on goal in more than 23 minutes of ice time while Heatley had one assist and two shots on goal in 22 1/2 minutes.

"Why not?" he said. "What have they done? There's no reason why that won't work. Everybody keeps telling me (they've got to play together). That's just comfort. We have to get them out of that.

"Jason is a top player. He's playing with two real good young players. He needs to make that line work. That other line (at practice) ... Fisher, Heatley and Alfredsson was by far the best line on the ice. There's no reason why anybody can't play with anybody on this hockey team, if we want to be a team. The comfort, the excuse level is out."

Hartsburg was then asked if he had talked to Spezza about the demotion.

"No, I don't have to talk to anybody about that," he spat. "They put the jersey on, they play."

He also made it clear the message to compete and battle harder was intended not for one player, but the entire team. He said the defence also has to pick up its intensity.

"I can see what we can be, if we do those things," said Hartsburg. "And I can see how bad we can be if we don't have that mindset. We need to take a lot more pride in that part of the game. Yeah, we have some skill ... but somebody who says we have more skill than any team we play is wrong. Every night we play a hockey team that's got as much skill as we do. So what's going to be the difference in the game? Not just a system. It's about competing, and playing the game with some passion.

"We've got to fix this. The players are the solution."

Spezza greeted the shakeup with a positive attitude.

"We're just trying to figure out what's going to work," he said. "I think it's a good move.

"He's just trying to get us to win hockey games. This is a different way to try and get scoring from everyone."

When it was suggested the new look might be short-term, Spezza clear his goals are strictly team-oriented.

"Hopefully not," he said. "If it works out real well and it's best for the team ...

"Doesn't matter if me and Heater are best friends, if we're not playing together, you feel a lot better after a win and we enjoy the win a lot more than if we scored a couple of goals (and lost) along the way."

Fisher isn't surprised at the lack of patience from the coach.

"He's not going to sit around and watch that," Fisher said. "No one should. Especially last game. It was embarrassing. We've got to find a way to fix it and we will."


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