Sens are too bland

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET


 Jacques Martin shrugged his shoulders, began to answer, and almost without warning your eyes begin to glaze over.

 You have heard all this before.

 How the Ottawa Senators have to be more resilient, play with more determination, be absolutely persistent with their efforts.

 How they have to feed off the Corel Centre crowd, respond with energy and enthusiasm and the usual collection of between game cliches.

 It would all be so inspirational if Knute Rockne was giving the speech and waving his fists and hoping to win one for the Gipper, but this is Monotone Jacques. And it all sounds so same old, same old.

 Same words. Same tone. Same message. Same team.

 The best talent in hockey has taken on the personality of its head coach. This is the bland leading the bland. And every spring the Senators find themselves in the very place they find themselves today.

 Looking for something that isn't there. Looking for an answer they have yet to find. Trying to instil the passion and the anger and the competitiveness that lives inside their general manager John Muckler but is not about what Martin is or will ever be.

 This is Martin's team, pretty yet dry, exciting but unemotional, tactically sharp but not necessarily willing to roll up its sleeves and get dirty.

 On one side there is Pat Quinn, full of bluster and argument and passion and in some ways totally flawed, but if he had to drop the gloves and do what was necessary, even now, you know somehow he would find a way.

 Martin is buttoned-down. He is technical. He is controlled. He is a systems guy. With one of the best defence corps in the NHL and six or seven terrifically quick forwards, he still plays the neutral-zone trap more often than not.

 He coaches not to lose -- and the trap is designed for teams that don't have a complete talent base in order to succeed.

 The Maple Leafs don't simply have a one-game lead in what is almost certain to still be a long series going into Game 4 in Ottawa tonight: They have a large psychological edge.

 They have been outplayed three consecutive games and won two of them. They have shut out the Senators twice in a row, three of the past four if you count the final game of the regular season. At the Corel Centre alone, the Leafs have scored the past 13 goals against Ottawa, with the Senators not responding once in that time.

 Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the Senators held a team meeting before practice yesterday in Ottawa. They talked about how well they did on faceoffs. They talked about the numbers of shots on goal they had and number of scoring opportunities they managed. They talked about capitalizing on Toronto mistakes the way they have been victimized to date. Zzzzzzz.

 And then in practice they worked almost exclusively on getting traffic in front of the goaltender in an attempt to put Belfour off his hot streak.

 LIKE MARTIN

 All of which are sound philosophies. Just nobody getting angry. Nobody screaming or breaking sticks. You listen long enough to Daniel Alfredsson or Marian Hossa or any of the great Senators players and after a while they begin to to sound like Martin.

 The same words, the same intonations. This isn't a team, this is a hockey cult of the unemotional in the most emotional of games.

 The Leafs aren't better or faster or smarter or more skilled than the Sens, although they are stronger in goal.

 They just get it.

 Hockey isn't completely about skill, it's about will.

 And in Jacques Martin's world, that part of the equation always has gone missing.


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