Cracks in Sens' game widening

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

OTTAWA -- The shots Daniel Alfredsson fired, one a slap shot at Scott Niedermayer, the other a sucker punch at Travis Moen, speak loudly about the tattered state of the Ottawa Senators.

The frustration is building in direct proportion to the exposure of the wannabe Stanley Cup champions.

The frustration, apparent in the actions of their captain and leader, seems to say much more than Alfredsson's words about the desperation now felt.

Quick question: Name a Senators player not named Mike Fisher who can say he is playing at the top of his game at a time that it matters most?

Name one.

You can't say Jason Spezza, and you can't use age as a reason anymore. He is the No. 1 centre on the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and with that comes a certain responsibility.

Spezza has two assists in the series -- both of them second assists -- one point at even strength, and he has on him none of the wear and tear that distinguishes playoff warriors at this time of season.

By contrast, Andy McDonald, the No. 1 centre on the No. 1 team in the Western Conference, has four goals in the final and five points, and many don't consider him a big-time player.

And if he is not a big-time player, what then is Spezza?

The question becomes even more complex when you include Dany Heatley in the equation. Heatley is a legitimate 50-goal scorer, ostensibly gone missing in the championship series.

By numbers alone, he should be the most apparent of all Ottawa players but by numbers he has been just about the most invisible.

Heatley has one point in four games, a goal in the Game 4 loss. If he hadn't scored on the pass from Patrick Eaves, there would be no physical evidence of him appearing in that game at all.

Simple but true hockey mantra: Your best players have to be your best players.

Spezza and Heatley have not been the best Senators.

Neither for that matter has been Alfredsson, who almost certainly will be separated from his regular linemates tonight as coach Bryan Murray tries to finds some answers without holding up a mirror to the players who matter most.

Alfredsson, at least, has three points in the series, but all have come on the power play. None have involved Spezza or Heatley.

At even strength, the Sens have managed just five goals in four games: You don't win the Stanley Cup with that tiny an output.

Those are the offensive troubles, at least the major ones. The defensive troubles have also become evident in recent games.

For most of the playoffs, Anton Volchenkov has been a rock on the Ottawa defence. But he was victimized badly on the second McDonald goal Monday night.

And on the winning goal, Wade Redden, who is paid to be a star on the blueline, misread the play, putting Teemu Selanne in a perfect position to find a wide-open Dustin Penner for the game-winner.

While Volchenkov and Redden looked uncharacteristically inept, the cracks also seem to be showing in Ray Emery, who was so strong through three rounds and the first two games of the final in goal.

Emery, clearly trying to be perfect, is showing himself to be something else. Maybe he has a great game left in him. Maybe the Senators do. But indications are that everything is close to falling apart.

This is what happens the longer the playoffs go, the closer you come to a championship. The more you play, the more you reveal about your team, the more vulnerable your weaknesses become.

The weaknesses and the matchup difficulties that weren't evident against Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo have been exposed in the Cup final. With time running out on yet another dream, the Senators need to find some answers, and fast.


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