Half Irish eyes are smiling

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Cory Clouston is starting to look and act like he's more comfortable in the role of an NHL coach.

"Are you Irish?" he was asked after yesterday's practice.

"Half," he replied. "Hennessy is Irish, and that's my mom's maiden name."

What's Clouston?

"Scottish," the Senators coach stated.

Broadcaster Gord Wilson sensed the moment was right for some frivolity.

"Wow, will you be drunk for (tonight's) game?," Wilson asked, in reference it being St. Patrick's Day.

"I don't drink very often," Clouston said with a chuckle.

"Do you mind if we (are drunk)?" Wilson cracked.

"Get all you want," Clouston said laughing, as his longest and lightest news conference in Ottawa came to a close.

WINNING RECORD

Earlier, Clouston had interrupted proceedings with an observation on the dozen or so reporters in attendance.

"You guys are asking me a lot of questions about me, holy smokes," he exclaimed.

Indeed, Bryan Murray's latest choice as Senators' bench boss was the story of the day. No surprise there thought, right?

Since Clouston took over from the fired Craig Hartsburg Feb. 3, Ottawa is 11-6-3 and looking like a completely different team. The Senators have won five of their last six games and tonight, facing the desperate Buffalo Sabres, will try to stretch their home winning streak to five.

"He's made a lot of adjustments," said forward Mike Fisher. "Some with our forecheck in the neutral zone, a few different things. But he's really instilled a confidence in our group, and he has confidence in us. We've been able to just go out, relax and focus on our game plan, not play uptight.

"We've just managed to try and have fun again, and he has helped us do that."

While he has to like the job Clouston is doing, Murray has not lifted the tag of interim coach, saying again yesterday such a decision will be made at season's end.

Murray does the like way the team practises under Clouston though, and believes that's a key factor in the improved results. "We're playing like we should be playing," he said..

Getting to know the players on opposing teams has been the biggest hurdle for Clouston to clear, and in that he acknowledges the boost he has received from assistant coaches Greg Carvel and Luke Richardson.

There are obvious differences in the Senators style under Clouston. Mainly, they are more aggressive on the attack.

"We have a couple of different ways we want to fore check in the neutral zone," said Clouston. "We may have a couple of different looks how we forecheck in the neutral zone but our approach as far as pressuring, creating turnovers, and then transitioning from those, that doesn't change."

Clouston minimizes his own contributions, however.

"The players have been very receptive. They deserve the credit," he said. "They've gone out and, for example last game, stuck with the game plan even though it was easy to get frustrated coming off the page where you had three or four posts.

"Our physical play is better. Our neutral zone play is much better. Our transition game is better. Again, the credit goes to the players.

"Obviously, the one area that has to be better is our penalty kill. I've thought the last few games it has been. Those are the things I focus on. What we need to be better at."

When asked if Clouston should remain as coach next season, captain Daniel Alfredsson wasn't about to tell management what to do, but said: "I think he has done a great job since he came in here, no question. He's turned the corner for us. I think we're playing with more confidence. We're harder to play against every night."

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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