Melnyk isn't about to give up on his Senators

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Eugene Melnyk is standing by his men.

The Senators owner is well aware it's going to be a long shot for his team to make the playoffs, but he maintained he's got full confidence in GM Bryan Murray and coach Craig Hartsburg, who have both come under fire with the club sitting 13th in the Eastern Conference.

While Melnyk was in town to make a push for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, it didn't take long for the talk to turn to hockey.

Melnyk said the Senators "are going to stay the course."

With 37 games remaining on the schedule as the Senators leave today on a three-game road trip, Melnyk told reporters before last night's 4-1 loss to the Devils that Ottawa needs to play .750 hockey down the stretch to make the playoffs.

"It's a question of every single game at a time," said Melnyk. "We're all very cognizant of the fact we need to win 28 games for the balance of the season. That's a tough, tough thing to do. But is it doable? There's no question about it.

"This team has the grit, we certainly have the fan support and we sure have the management and the coaching to do it."

Prospects improve

Melnyk said he speaks with Murray regularly, sometimes "three or four times a day," and that the club's top priority remains finding a puck-moving defenceman.

Before the all-star break, the Senators picked up seven of a possible eight points and Melnyk believes that has left everybody feeling better about their prospects. He compared the Senators to the OHL's St. Mike's Majors, who went on a recent surge to get into a playoff position.

"Of course it does (remove some pressure)," said Melnyk. "Everybody is breathing a little sigh of relief. Look, anything can happen. My Mississauga St. Mike's Majors before the world juniors began (last month), they were under .500. They went and won nine in a row. They're steamrolling now.

"They went from being out of the playoffs to No. 3 or No. 4 and they will now be in the playoffs. All (the Senators) need is some luck, we need some hard work and we need the momentum. This could be the beginning of the momentum I've been talking about all season. I really hope that it is."

Melnyk said the media overreacted to the slump.

"We lose two games and you guys talk doom and gloom, so I'm getting used to this," said a smiling Melnyk.

Smith out

Senators veteran D Jason Smith was a scratch last night with D Anton Volchenkov returning to the lineup from a shoulder injury. The 35-year-old Smith, who has struggled this season after signing a two-year, $5.4-million (all terms US) free-agent deal in July, said he was frustrated when he learned he wasn't going to play and couldn't remember the last time he was a healthy scratch. "It's the coach's decision," said Smith. "It's a bump in the road. I'm going to work hard, stay focused and be ready when I get back playing. I'm obviously surprised and disappointed. You become a player in this league to play games and do whatever you can to help the team have success." Smith said he wasn't sure why he was scratched. "I guess you can ask (Hartsburg). It all comes down the team winning games. I guess they want me to play better and I'll do whatever I can to work and get better," said Smith.

Gerber Bingo bound

Unable to deal G Martin Gerber, the Senators assigned him to Binghamton yesterday. He will stay there until Murray can find a team that's interested in trading for him or somebody who will take his what remains of $3.7-million salary on re-entry waivers. There was mild interest in Gerber from a couple of NHL teams, but not enough that anybody is willing to touch him. Gerber will arrive in Binghamton in time for the club's two-game road trip to San Antonio and Houston. Murray had given two NHL teams until noon yesterday to make a decision and both passed.


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