Senators fighting mad

Ottawa Senators' Daniel Alfredsson skates during practice at Scotiabank Place. (Darren Brown/QMI...

Ottawa Senators' Daniel Alfredsson skates during practice at Scotiabank Place. (Darren Brown/QMI AGENCY)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

LONG ISLAND — Fed up and frustrated, Chris Neil finally decided to get his message across in a different manner.

The way he knows best.

Twice in the past month, the tough Senators winger called his teammates out in the media for not giving everything they possibly could to the cause. During both post-loss scrums, he spoke of the need for all to be on the same page, to create some energy, to finish checks, to shoot the puck ... to do what they do with all that they have.

Clearly, not everyone heard, or adhered to his words, so on Tuesday Neil replaced them with actions.

About 15 minutes into a practice at Boston University — the morning after a merciless 6-0 pounding by the Bruins extended Ottawa’s losing streak to six games — Neil fought defenceman Chris Campoli during a battle in front of the net.

It may be just coincidence that Campoli was a team worst-minus 4 vs. the B’s. He has not been the worst offender during the Senators’ dive to the bowels of the Eastern Conference standings.

But then, maybe he’s a guy Neil figures should be doing more, too.

“I’m trying to get the battle level up, intensity, and that’s part of it,” Neil said. “I think we need more of that, and whatever happens, happens.”

It was the first such dust-up during a Senators practice we can recall this season, and frankly, given the team’s current state, it’s disappointing there haven’t been a lot more. Thirteen points out of a playoff position just past the midway mark of the season, these guys should be angry as hell at themselves. This is not a good team, it has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. But surely, it’s not as bad as it’s playing, either.

With their lack of desperation and push-back when their playoff hopes hang on the edge of a cliff, players are leading the coaching staff to a spot in the unemployment line. Assistant Rick Wamsley’s frustration was on display even before the Neil-Campoli incident, as he used some colourful language while shooting at players to shoot the puck. And he’s the goalie coach, not theirs.

Team owner Eugene Melnyk has remained mum while monitoring the recent six-game swoon, during which the Senators have been outscored by a whopping 24-7. That he hasn’t instructed the firing of Cory Clouston by now would suggest Melnyk has decided to let Clouston play out the string and start with a fresh coach next season. But if the Senators lose to the Islanders Thursday and Calgary at home Friday, it’s unimaginable that he wouldn’t make a change now.

“To me, I’m more concerned about the players,” Clouston said nobly after practice, and the scrap between teammates he did not have a problem with as long as such emotion is “channelled” in the right direction. “I’m not worried about myself. I’m more worried about their mental and emotional state, and getting them prepared for (Thursday). I’m not concerned about myself.”

Ironically, Clouston spoke to the players about being “tougher” in the wake of a loss in which most of them played like Betty White.

“Physically, we’ve got to be a tougher team to play against,” he said. “And just be emotionally and mentally tougher. If something goes wrong, we can’t fold, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. The only way we’re going to get out of this is by ourselves, working hard and sticking with it.

“We have to believe we can.”

The Islanders are 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, but they only trail Ottawa by five points, and they have two games in hand. Their recent surge has seen them win seven of their last 11.

The Senators have made far too many errors. A usually reliable guy like Chris Phillips is struggling mightily, now a minus-19. But he’s still better than two fellow defencemen who make more money — Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba — and, as a pending unrestricted free agent, he does have to deal constantly with questions about his future.

“I think the biggest thing that’s really hurt us has been the turnovers,” said Phillips. “You look at the work ethic, I think it’s been pretty good. If you look back, a lot of the goals that have been scored against us have been our own fault. If we really limit the mental mistakes and turnovers in our own zone, then from there we can expect better results.”

Yes, it may look differently, but the Senators speak as though they haven’t quit.

“We’ve just got to get back to that energy level and handling adversity better than we did (in Boston),” said Daniel Alfredsson. “We do know the situation we’re in and we do want to make the playoffs. But for us, we’ve got to build something short-term. It’s the next game.. we’ve got to keep working. We’re not going to hang our head and feel sorry for ourselves. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep giving everything we have.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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