PITTSBURGH — Bryan Murray was coach of the 2006-07 Senators team that survived injuries to key players, then rallied for a run to the Stanley Cup final.
As the GM of a Senators team that has survived injuries to key players and now rallied to win seven games in a row, he sees some similarities.
“Absolutely,” Murray said Wednesday. “I think back then we were able to put a structure in place and allow everyone to play a role, and they fit, and we won some games. It’s easier then, as guys get healthy, to come back in and play, and fit, and accept the fact that there’s a whole group of people now who are playing, and playing well, and you’re one of them. You don’t have to be the individual that carries the team. So I think that message is a benefit to the coaches.
“But yeah, (this one) looks like a good team. It looks like good structure. We’re playing with discipline and everybody’s contributing. As an organization, that’s exactly what you like to see.”
Murray says much credit should go to Cory Clouston.
“The coaches are the people that get everybody to buy in, provide the structure, and give the opportunity to the players,” he said. “In turn, we can never forget that the players do the job out there, they have to do the work, they have to buy in, they have to be willing to sacrifice a little to make the team better. Our group, it appears, have done that to this point in time.
“If we continue to play under the same kind of philosophy, this will be an exciting team down the stretch.”
Meanwhile, Clouston refuses to accept accolades. He passes them off to players, saying a turnaround was made possible by improved goaltending.
“This has nothing to do with me,” Clouston said. “This is the guys going out there and playing hard. We believe in what we’re doing. The players believe in what they’re doing, and we have right from Day 1. And we’re seeing some benefits of that.”
It was pointed out to Clouston that since he does accept responsibility when things don’t go well, shouldn’t he therefore get some credit when they do?
“No,” he said flatly.
Murray noted the impact of Alex Kovalev, and not just for his 13 goals and 24 assists.
“I think he’s been, for the most part, good all year,” said Murray. “He’s such a great complementary player. He helped (Mike) Fisher early on to really have a good start. He helped Peter Regin become a real good NHL player. He’s getting points for us.
“The biggest thing Alex does, though, he gives that professional presence on the ice every time he’s out there. He holds the puck, he demands respect from the opponent. They have to play good players against him, and it does provide opportunity for other players.
“He provides a presence to our team that maybe we didn’t have before.”
Senators C Jesse Winchester participated in his first practice since suffering his second right kneecap injury of the season. Winchester has missed the last nine games and, according to coach Cory Clouston, is “close” to returning. “It was great today to finally get back out with the boys,” said Winchester, who threw some balls with the Gee-Gees basketball team warming up at Scotiabank Place Wednesday morning. “It feels strong, I feel fast, I feel refreshed.” Winchester, who has two goals and six assists in 29 games.
Clouston switched Alex Kovalev and Jonathan Cheechoo so that the former now plays on a line with Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno. “I guess he’s trying to see if it’s going to make a difference,” said Kovalev. “Our line really didn’t play well (vs. New Jersey). We pretty much spent 60-70% of the time in the offensive zone, but we’re not scoring too many goals. Most of the goals I’ve scored so far, it’s always been during a change.” ... The Pens have won five of their last seven.