Senators need a simple plan

BRUCE GARRIOCH

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Like fans in Ottawa, Chris Neil is searching for answers as to what's gone wrong with the Senators.

Mired in a four-game losing streak and coming off an ugly 3-2 loss to the hated Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Senators arrived in Buffalo late yesterday to prepare to face the Sabres tonight at the HSBC Arena.

The Senators realize they've got to get things turned around quickly or risk becoming also-rans in the Eastern Conference.

"I think we're being passive out there. I think we're kind of hesitant to go for pucks and we're afraid to make a mistake out there instead of just going out and playing," said Neil. "We've got to get more pressure going. It's not just one or two guys, we need the whole team doing it.

"When you look at (the game against the Leafs), our fourth line was our best line out there because they were getting the puck in deep and they went down and cycled the puck. That's stuff we want to do, but we just don't have everyone doing it right now."

The Senators didn't practise yesterday, but coach Craig Hartsburg spent the morning trying to find ways to get the team turned around. He's frustrated, but believes the players need to take a step back and simplify their game.

"We have to go right back to the basics that we started from," said Hartsburg. "Earlier in the training camp, we were so much better defensively and it seems like we've lost our way on that for whatever reason. We've got to go back to that and tighten things up defensively.

"When you struggle and you're not playing well, if you start to try to complicate the game -- which I think we are (doing) at times -- then you've got to go back to being good defensively."

Not only have the Senators had a difficult time keeping the puck out of their own net, they haven't had a whole lot of success scoring goals lately, with only eight goals in their last four games.

Players such as Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette haven't stepped up the way Hartsburg expected. What's more concerning is the fact they're having a difficult time getting to the net.

"They're not getting any chances," said Hartsburg. "If you look at (Saturday's) game, we played way too much in our end. When good players have to spend 35-40 seconds in their own end, they're not going to have a chance to score. It's just desperation to get the (puck) out.

"We've got to be better there. We've got to break the puck out better so that we can have a chance to create more offence. But until we clean up those other two areas, defensive zone coverage and breakouts, we're not going to look like a team that can score."

Hartsburg reunited Spezza, Heatley and captain Daniel Alfredsson in the first period against the Leafs, but they won't start together against the Sabres.

"I put them together early because it looked like we need a line that might be stabilizing thing. To me, it might have been the opposite because it looked like they had one of their worst games of the year," said Hartsburg.

AULD AGAIN

G Alex Auld will make his third straight start tonight. He made 35 saves in the loss to the Leafs and was the only reason the score wasn't worse. "I like his poise in the net. We're not playing very well in front of him defensively, but he doesn't seem to be rattled by it at all. He's given us a chance," said Hartsburg. G Brian Elliott, who was recalled from Binghamton on Saturday, accompanied the Senators to Buffalo because it's not known if G Martin Gerber will be on the ice after suffering a leg injury in practice on Friday.


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