September 9, 2009
Sens need to get on track: Murray
By BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA
KITCHENER — The message GM Bryan Murray delivers to the Senators will be simple: Get your act together.
After missing the post-season for the first time in 12 years and coming off a summer that was disrupted by Dany Heatley’s request to be dealt, the Senators begin training camp this weekend.
“We’ve got to get back on track,” said Murray in an interview with Sun Media. “We expect that we’re going to play at a high level. We expect commitment. We’ve had some issues in the room, as far as moving past (goalie) Ray (Emery), and now the (Heatley) scenario.
“We’ve got to start being more of a team and have everybody believe in each other, rather than the individual stuff that has gone on at times. Ottawa has been blessed with a pretty good core over the years and you tend to play on skill more than on overall team play.”
Murray has high hopes for newcomers winger Alexei Kovalev and goaltender Pascal Leclaire and much will also be expected of the core group.
Murray doesn’t like singling out individuals, but he wasn’t pleased with the way Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips, Chris Neil and Chris Kelly performed last season. “There are some players that we know can be better,” said Murray. “Mike Fisher is going to get more points and have a better year.
"Chris Phillips really had a tough time and I think it was all based on trying to do too much and getting away from his game. Chris Neil is better than a two- or three- goal scorer. Jason Spezza is just getting better. He had a decent year last year and he worked hard in the summer on his conditioning. Chris Kelly won’t get a lot of goals, but he played well at the end. You can go down the list of almost every veteran guy on this team and I would have felt they would have played a touch better than they did.”
The Kovalev gamble?
Signing the enigmatic Kovalev to a two-year, $10-million contract was the biggest move the Senators made. He had 26 goals and 39 assists with Montreal, but was sent home midway through the season to get his head on straight. “I’m not expecting him to be a superstar,” said Murray. “He’ll make the players he plays with better. He’ll bring professionalism to our team and to our room.
Our players have played against him enough to know he’ll make our power play better. In an 82-game schedule, you know there are nights they’re not going to be as good as they can be. If that happens, you have to get something out of them. There are going to be nights we wish he had done more, but there are going to be more nights where he’s very special.”
Goalie Pascal Leclaire, who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Antoine Vermette at last year’s trade deadline, could hold the key to the team’s success this season.
He has struggled with injuries and the Senators have focused on his conditioning. He can be a difference maker when he stays healthy.
“We lost games too often at the start of the year last year because of goaltending and we lost confidence,” said Murray. “Goaltending is a priority every night. We hope that the injury bug won’t (hurt) his play. Skill-wise, he is a high level guy. It looks like he’s got quickness, and awareness in the net and gets out on angles quickly.
"He’s a reaction goalie and that’s why we paid a price. It was a need that we had and it was so obvious that if we didn’t address it, this team would have continued to struggle to go where we want to go. We think he gives us a chance.”
Still looking for help
Murray anticipates training camp’s best battles will be on the blueline, but he’s not sure all the elements are there. With Jason Smith retired, Murray might look for toughness. Chris Campoli, Filip Kuba, Brian Lee, Alexandre Picard and newcomer Erik Karlsson all play an offensive style.
Phillips and Anton Volchenkov remain the shutdown pair. “We have to look at our defence. Do we have enough physical presence there? That’s the only area I kept looking at all summer and I was trying to address if we make a trade,” said Murray. “We have to find a way to make sure people pay a price in our end as well.”
Return of Clouston
After taking over from Craig Hartsburg in February, coach Cory Clouston compiled a 19-11-4 record.
The expectations are high and the players — with the exception of Heatley — seem to like what Clouston is selling. “We’ll have a better camp than we did last year,” said Murray. “(Clouston’s) approach to systematic play and structure and his demands will bring the best out of most of our players. I think, for the most part, everybody will buy in and with the (impact) he had last year, he has got a lot of guys sold already to take the right step right now in training camp.”
Murray isn’t promising a trip back to the post-season, but he believes the club can challenge for a spot. “I do think we have a good team. We were handicapped a little bit by money in the off-season and not knowing what’s happening with (Heatley),” said Murray. “I believe in this group.
It’s a good group. We didn’t play well for a large part of last year. We’re considerably better in goal, we’ve got more mobility on the blue line and I’d like to think a number of the players who didn’t play well last year will come back and have a good season.”