MONTREAL -- Craig Hartsburg was brought in to turn up the heat on an underachieving Senators team.
Consider it warm.
Even though the Senators are 4-1-1 in their last six heading into tonight's game against the Canadiens, Hartsburg has turned up the heat with Senators centre Jason Spezza having to stickhandle around Hartsburg's criticism of his work ethic and consistency.
"He's trying to push me offensively. It's something I expect. We've been meeting every couple of days and we've got a pretty good dialogue right now," said Spezza. "I have a lot more to give. I have to be better for our team to be better."
Spezza calls it a dialogue, but you can be sure this is pretty much a one-way conversation.
Hartsburg started the latest discussion of Spezza's work ethic when he set the agenda with critical comments Sunday.
With the cameras arriving on the scene yesterday, Hartsburg was reluctant to revisit the subject publicly.
"I don't want to get into all that. You guys should have been here yesterday. That was yesterday's story. This is a day late. You were all at home watching football and we were here working," he said.
But he did add:
"He's such a talented player, consistency is what everybody wants in every player. When your best players are very consistent, that's a huge plus. Your team really starts to go forward. Jason is a guy we just need to be better."
Spezza has been centring Dany Heatley and Antoine Vermette since Hartsburg shook up the lines six games ago.
Heatley brushed off a question about Spezza and what the line had to do better.
"I don't know. Score? It's been one game. I kind of find it humourous that it's 'slumping' already. I think we're fine. I think there are times where we could create a little more down low," he said before tackling a followup question about Spezza and the criticism from both within and outside the organization.
"He's my centreman. It's our job to produce. I don't think he listens to it. He's obviously listening to it from Craig, but he's not listening to it from you guys and neither am I. I think we're going to listen to Craig and try to do what he wants. Our job is to produce and put up points and be good players."
SHAKING UP LINES
The loss to the Hurricanes is the Senators' only loss in regulation in their six games which coincides with Hartsburg shaking up the lines, putting Mike Fisher between captain Daniel Alfredsson and rookie Jesse Winchester in a quest for secondary scoring. Fisher has been sizzling since being skunked in the first nine games of the season and that line has combined for 11 points in the last three games.
The Spezza trio has three points in the last three games.
Goaltender Alex Auld, who leads the league in goals-against average (1.84) and is second in save percentage (.936) will be back in net tonight for the Senators after giving way to Martin Gerber for the game against the Hurricanes.
The Habs have their own problems right now, coming off a two-game road trip in which they lost in a shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday night and were thorougly outplayed by the Toronto Maple Leafs on national television in a 6-3 loss Saturday night.