No matter what it looks like, the Senators insist they have not quit on their coach.
Cory Clouston doesn’t believe so, either.
Clouston cracked the whip at Monday’s practice, the first of four tuneups before the club’s next game, Friday in Chicago against the defending champion Blackhawks.
Afterwards, Clouston admitted speculation that he could be canned is tough on his family, but added that in no way has it distracted him from the task at hand.
“I don’t worry about that,” Clouston said when asked if he expects to finish the season behind the Ottawa bench.
“All I can worry about is tomorrow, making sure our players are focused. All I can worry about is the practice we had (Monday), making sure I talk to the players that need to be talked to.
“My role hasn’t changed since I got here. I remember my role when I first got here ... it was to see if this team needed to be blown up.
“A couple of years later, my goal has always been to win the next game. To get this team into the playoffs. That hasn’t changed.”
After a season and a half on the job, Clouston finally moved his family to Ottawa in the summer.
Asked if the possible implications of the team’s struggles on his future here were difficult on his loved ones, Clouston replied: “For sure it’s tough on them. How could it not be?”
Then, after the quick flash of his personal side, Clouston put his business face back on.
“We all have to look at what we can do to get better,” he said. “You have responsibilities and roles, and all you can do is the best you possibly can do. If you can answer yes, I’m doing that, then that’s fine.”
Very few of the Senators’ sweater wearers can answer yes. The team has lost three straight and is one good shove from falling out of the playoff race altogether.
“You can’t blame the coaches when we go out and don’t perform,” said centre Mike Fisher. “The onus falls on each and every one in the room. We know what we have to do, we know the game plan.”
Fisher said the Senators are well-prepared for each game. “We’re just not executing as individuals,” he said. “We’ve got to be a lot better.”
While he wouldn’t be on any of their Christmas card lists, the players say Clouston still has their ear.
While Fisher said there are times the effort level isn’t what it should be, Chris Phillips argued that’s not what’s causing the problems.
“Most of the time it’s just been mistakes,” said Phillips. “I don’t know if it’s our focus level, or what it is. Different from mistake to mistake. And those mistakes have been turning into goals.”
Captain Daniel Alfredsson took exception to the suggestion the Senators aren’t competing hard enough.
“In some games I can understand it looks that way, but to say for us ... especially lately, I can’t agree with that at all,” said Alfredsson. “There’s other areas we need to improve more than just work ethic. Our offence has been the biggest reason for us not getting more points.”
And the goaltending.
“What ends up happening, you get down. You lose your momentum, you lose your energy,” said Clouston.
“I don’t think we did quit (in the 5-1 loss to Toronto Saturday). When you’re down 3-0 or 4-0 before you kind of bat an eye, it’s tough to dig deep. When you’re not sharp, when you’re not intense, you’re not going to bury your chances.
“Every team makes mistakes,” he added. “What’s happening now is we’re not capitalizing ... It’s easy to point your finger at goaltending, which we know has to get better. But we have to score on the mistakes the opposition makes.”