COLUMBUS - What to do with Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba?
Cory Clouston has an idea.
The Senators coach is thinking about putting one of his top-paid defencemen in the pressbox for Friday's game against the Blue Jackets.
Both are healthy, just hurting the team.
Gonchar, whose minus-20 is fourth worst of more than 750 players in the NHL, was easily stripped of the puck on Carolina's last goal in the 4-0 defeat.†
Kuba, who has played only 22 of the team's 38 games, is trying to catch up (or down?) to Gonchar. He is a minus-10, and was way too softly separated from the puck on the Hurricanes' second goal.
Along with being awful in the defensive zone, both veterans are also currently useless at the other end of the ice.
Gonchar, who was hired to be the team's power play quarterback, hasn't scored in 22 games. Kuba, who is also supposed to have offensive skills, has no goals and four assists this season.
Asked if he is thinking about making one of them a healthy scratch, Clouston confirmed that yes, it is "absolutely" an option he is considering.
"There comes a point where you have to produce," said Clouston.
He and his coaching staff have focused on helping turn the games of Gonchar and Kuba around.
"We've been doing what we feel we need to do," said Clouston. "There's been more video (time) spent than normal. There's been meetings, there's been discussions ... it comes down to just competing, winning those battles and making the right plays. The simple plays.†
"If it's a matter of icing the puck, get that down on the penalty kill. If it's a matter of making the simple, tape-to-tape pass, if it's a matter of just good D-zone coverage, where you contain your man, just make the simple, correct play."
While it may look like Gonchar and Kuba don't care as much as they should, Clouston doesn't think that's the case.
"I don't see it as that," he said. "Just right now, both players' confidence is very low. Filip missed almost a whole season with his back surgery and broke his leg on Day 1 of camp, and it just seems right now he hasn't been able to get himself caught up. He's got to skate more, he's got to be more assertive ... we're not going to sit here and try and tell you he's playing to the level he was a year ago.
"It's a situation where we need both of those guys to be much better."
Sitting Gonchar, who makes $5.5 million, would be more of a statement than benching Kuba, whose salary is $3.7 million. (Did we mention that Gonchar and Kuba have two and one more remaining years, respectively, on their contracts, after this one?). But Kuba would probably be Clouston's first option.†
The 34-year-old Czech hasn't been same since the back injury.
"I didn't play a long time, but I didn't expect it to be like that, obviously," Kuba said of the difficulties he's had trying to get back in the groove. "I want to do better. I'm working on some things and trying to bring my game to a better level, obviously."
He acknowledged he's having trouble getting his confidence back, and that "confidence is a big thing in the game," but refused to pin his problems on lingering affects from the injuries.
Kuba did show some rare emotion when he smashed his stick over the net following the second Carolina goal.
"You play the game, it's emotional," he said. "I want to do good out there. I wasn't happy with myself, obviously. I know I can do better. I want to improve."
The Senators need to improve quickly from the effort they delivered against the Canes. As of Thursday, they were six points out of a playoff spot.
"We're not trying to blow everything up," Clouston said of the different aspects of Ottawa's game. "We just want to make sure we understand the urgency of the situation, the time of the year, the place we are in the standings and the importance of these next couple of games."
The Senators return home from Columbus to ring in the new year with a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday.