OTTAWA - As far as road trips go, it's hard to imagine a costlier one for the Ottawa Senators.
They returned from a two-game swing with two fewer coaches than they set out with, with two fewer victories than they would have liked, and with time running out to right their sinking ship ahead of the playoffs.
Throw in the fact that one of their top defencemen, Anton Volchenkov, suffered a bruised chest while blocking a shot and is questionable for Saturday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it becomes apparent real quick that the Senators have their work cut out for them to turn things around.
"We're in a real catch-up mode right now," coach and general manager Bryan Murray admitted Friday after he got the chance to put the team through its first full practice since he took over behind the bench for the fired John Paddock on Wednesday.
The Senators are indeed hurting after being shut out 4-0 Tuesday night in Boston by the Bruins, a loss that effectively signalled the end of the line for Paddock and assistant coach Ron Low, who were both let go the next day. That was followed by a 3-1 defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in Murray's return behind the bench for the first time since he moved into the GM's seat in the off-season.
They've now lost three straight games and seven of the past nine contests. Pending the outcome of Friday's game between the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres, they faced the prospect of waking up Saturday morning in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings after occupying the top spot for much of the year.
Back home at Scotiabank Place on Friday, the Senators had the chance to lick their wounds and take stock of the situation. With 17 games to go in the regular season, they resemble a team more likely suited to going out in the first round of the playoffs than making a deep run.
"You can't just change the coach and expect that everybody's going to start playing better," said Jason Spezza, who didn't finish the game in Philadelphia after being ejected for butt-ending Braydon Coburn. "You've got to start the process. We know that we have to get better because time's running out on us." The team held a video session before practice and Murray wasn't pleased with what he saw. He then put the players through their paces.
The Senators aren't scoring; the goaltending is suspect and the defence even more so.
"He's obviously not happy and we're going to have to change things around," left-winger Dany Heatley said.
Murray said he at least saw more effort Thursday than the team had exhibited previously, so it was a step in the right direction, however small.
"That's all we're asking them to do - just play hockey," he said. "I'm a real simple coach. Play hard; play together ... and things will fall into place for you.
"I don't think that some of our guys are even close to playing the way they're capable of playing."
After rallying to beat the Penguins 4-3 in overtime last Saturday, the Senators have managed just one goal while giving up 12 in the three games since.
The top line of Spezza, Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson is cold and Murray acknowledged the captain is bothered by a hip flexor injury that kept him out of the lineup a few weeks ago, but what's ailing the rest of the lineup is most distressing.
The belief was that the players had stopped listening to Paddock. Whether or not Murray will get through remains to be seen.
"You can have any coach out there, but it's all up to us," said right-winger Martin Lapointe, who arrived from the Chicago Blackhawks at Tuesday's trade deadline and made his debut on Thursday. "There are no excuses. Us as players, we have to go out and do our job."