March 6, 2011
Senators in NHL's basement
By DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency
That loud noise you may have heard in the wee hours of Sunday morning was the Senators finally hitting the floor.
To clarify, it was indeed a splat.
Yes, an Edmonton win over Colorado meant the Senators’ long fall had come to an abrupt end and they were all alone in the NHL basement, a dreary 30th in the 30-team league.
What’s it like to see that in your morning paper, Jason Spezza?
“It’s obviously not a good feeling,” he said. “The reality (after) how the start of our year went, (is that) we’re past the point of looking at the standings. We’re trying to play better. Our record has been better lately. We’ve had some better showings. We’re trying to build off that.
“The mess we put ourselves in was created at the start of the year. Now we’re just trying to play better hockey.”
Unless there’s some movement in the final six weeks, the Senators will finish last for the first time since the 1995-96 season. While that would give them the best shot at having the No. 1 pick in the June 24 entry draft, GM Bryan Murray just might be OK with having the second, third or fourth, instead.
In the minds of many, 6-foot-3 Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson will be the best player available. But already boasting the likes of Erik Karlsson, David Rundblad and Jared Cowen — and still with expectations that Patrick Wiercioch will develop into a solid NHLer as well — the Senators are loaded at the position.
What they really need is a forward who can put the puck in the net. And that’s where the other three players in Central Scouting’s list of Top 4 prospects — Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Sean Couturier — should be able to help.
“Larsson is an awfully good player. If you’re picking No. 1, it would be hard to pass on him, for sure,” Murray said at Sensplex Sunday. “He’s smart, big, moves the puck really well. He was hurt at the world juniors and was still one of the best players there.
“Our philosophy has always been, when you’re picking, try to get the best player at that time. We’ll see when the time comes, where we grade everybody, but we’ve got our scouts now double-checking all the top five or six players numerous times.
“I think the one thing about defencemen in particular ... there’s some value in high-end young defencemen, so we may have enough assets in that area to somewhere down the road address other needs. If we ever had him, you’d have Karlsson, Rundblad, Cowen ... all these young guys coming. The blue line would be set up for a lot of years.”
Of course, the 30th-place standing doesn’t sit well with the coaches and the players currently wearing the colours. And they’re doing what they can to change it.
Since ending a five-game losing streak, the Senators are 5-4-1 and have actually scored more goals (26) than they’ve allowed (23).
Much of that has to do with the goaltending of Craig Anderson in the last seven games. Part of it has to do with the energy provided by young prospects promoted from Binghamton who are trying to show they belong in the NHL.
Coach Cory Clouston likes the fact younger players are pushing the veterans.
“There’s nothing wrong with four or five of our so-called veteran players going home this summer thinking that they better bust their ass to make sure that, with these young guys coming right up behind them, and with two or three signings over the off-season, we can be very competitive,” said Clouston. “I think it’s a real good thing to get some healthy competition. It raises the bar.”
Right now, there’s one bar that can’t get any lower for the Senators. That’s the rung on the ladder that is the NHL’s overall standings.
The Senators will do what they can about being in 30th place when they begin a four-game road trip that starts Tuesday in New Jersey.
“You look at that, and there’s a bit of a pride factor there, but for the most part, we’re just trying to worry about today’s practice, worry about tomorrow’s practice, and get everybody to play as well as they possibly can these last 18 games,” said Clouston. “And whatever happens, happens.”