Sens owner calls out stars

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Eugene Melnyk has issued a challenge to the Senators’ top players.

The Senators owner said during a break in his charity Christmas skate yesterday at Scotiabank Place he believes Ottawa has the talent to be a contender and if the club is going to get back on track, then the top players have to start performing up to their capabilities.

Speaking before the club wrapped its five-game road trip against the Ducks in Anaheim, Melnyk wouldn’t name names, but it’s obvious by looking at production this season that Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev are among the group of players he was pointing the finger at.

Melnyk said he spoke to GM Bryan Murray during the Senators’ lacklustre 3-2 loss to the Coyotes in Phoenix on Saturday night.

“It’s obvious what we need: The elite players have to start playing their best and once they do that, I think we can be as competitive as ever. We’re hoping that happens fairly quickly and we get right back to where we were at the beginning of the season,” said Melnyk.

“I’m not concerned because I believe at the end of the day the quality of players we have at the high end can truly rise to the top. These are not one-trick ponies. These are players who have performed year after year and (they’ve shown) that they can compete at the highest level.

“It’s just a question of time when they all click in. What I’m happy about is the second, third and fourth lines stepping up and playing the way they have been and basically carrying the team. But that’s what we really need, is the elite players playing their top game and putting pucks in the net.”

So, is he speaking about Kovalev and Spezza specifically?

“There’s a whole group,” said Melnyk. “Some show up some nights and some don’t. It’s the elite players. I’m really pleased to see guys like (Mike) Fisher step up and play as well as he has. It’s his fastest start and I’m just thrilled for him.

“But I’ve said this from the beginning of the season, it all comes down to the consistency of the players and also injuries. I have never seen that kind of fluke like happened to (Pascal Leclaire). It’s just unbelievable. But, it’s also giving (Brian) Elliott a chance to have a lot of ice time and we know what we have there.”

Melnyk said this stretch is just a blip for the Senators.

“That’s all it is,” he said. “There’s no question about it. There are some tough teams out there, but I think we can play against any of the teams. You take a look at the San Jose game, we’re there with them, skating right up until the last 10 minutes of the game.

“You take a look at every single game we’ve lost and we’re right there with the top teams. We can do it. It’s a game of inches. You just need it to start clicking for you. Right now, it’s clicking for some teams.”

After the skate wrapped up, Melnyk said he was headed to a meeting with president Cyril Leeder to discuss the club’s attendance issues.

“The attendance is down, which is not surprising. I talked about this a year ago September when we were in (Sweden),” said Melnyk. “I saw this coming down with tough economic times. A 10% drop means that somebody who goes to 20 games a year, and is considered a good fan, is now going to 18 games a year.

“We’re going to be working hard to replenish our season-ticket holder base and we’re going to do a full review to get back to the sellouts that we had a year ago.”

Melnyk said there is nothing new to report on the grievance he filed to get the $4-million US bonus back he paid to Dany Heatley on July 1. Melnyk doesn’t expect the case to be dealt with for a year.


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