Sens owner Melnyk misfires

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- As his team has plunged from the NHL's upper echelon, Eugene Melnyk has refused to panic while maintaining what many perceive as a proper, positive and perfect attitude.

But yesterday, with what surely had to be an inadvertent choice of words in a war-sensitive time, the Senators owner slipped up. Big time.

"Anybody that says we should blow up this organization should get their own bomb and go blow themselves up," Melnyk said, flanked by 30 Grade 4 students, at a press conference to announce new fan initiatives.

Please, no one take him literally.

Meanwhile, the desperate, tied for 29th-place Senators left town yesterday with their 5-14-3 road record for games in St. Louis, Columbus and Washington, beginning with tonight's showdown against the 28th-place Blues.

Although they were 13 points out of a playoff spot with 37 games to go as he spoke, Melnyk expressed hope of a turnaround.

"This is not an organization that is completely crippled," he said. "It needs fine-tuning, it needs some tweaking, it needs a player here, a player there, a few good bounces and that's it. But we are nowhere near that type of environment.

"This has not been the season we had all hoped to have," Melnyk added. "We had great high expectations, but it's not over until it's over. I still continue to believe in our players, our organization and our staff. You can mark my words -- things are going to get better."

The Senators looked to be getting back on track before the all-star break, taking at least a point out of four straight games. But upon their return to action Tuesday, they stopped playing in the third period of what would be a 4-1 loss to the Devils. Afterward, coach Craig Hartsburg chastised his charges for their failure to win any battles in the final 20 minutes.

Melnyk, who earlier Tuesday said the Senators could still make the playoffs by winning 28 more games, yesterday changed the number to "26 or 27."

"Can it be done? Yes, absolutely," Melnyk said. "If we get on a roll, it can be done."

Melnyk did declare "the excuses are over" and that it was now-or-never time to salvage the season.

"To tell you the truth, it is hard after a game like (Tuesday) night," Melynk said when asked about remaining upbeat. "On the other hand, you hope it's just a blip. Going into (the Devils) game there was tremendous optimism. We played a few great games and then we had the all-star break and then we came back, and unfortunately enough was said by Craig, and that's all I can tell you."

Asked if he had made any decisions on the future of the team's management and coaching staff, Melnyk offered some ominous words.

"As far as the hockey organization is concerned, I leave the hockey operations to the hockey people. I've always done that," he said. "And we are going to continue doing whatever it takes to put a winning team on the ice. As far as I'm concerned right now, we are at a crossroads. This is it. We have to win 26-27 games, it's got to be done.

"If it's not done, we will have to deal with it."


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