OTTAWA - There's no goaltending controversy in Ottawa these days. Instead, it's the struggling Senators' offensive stars who are on the hot seat.
Rumours about the job security of everyone from general manager Bryan Murray to coach Cory Clouston to the players are starting to swirl. Only netminders Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott are out of the line of fire for a change as fingers are being pointed at captain Daniel Alfredsson, No. 1 centre Jason Spezza and the rest of the Senators' offensive talents.
"They should be," Alfredsson said Wednesday as Ottawa prepared to play host to the New York Rangers on Thursday night. "I know myself when I play well and when I don’t play well and I think I’m playing OK, not good enough where I need to be when we’re in this situation and hopefully I can step it up."
The Senators' current slide has seen them win just once in five games, twice in eight and three times in the past 12. They've only scored 17 goals over those 12 games and find themselves slipping well back of the playoff pack in the Eastern Conference.
"We’re frustrated, searching for answers as to where our offence is," Spezza said. "Nobody’s scored. We haven’t generated much as a team, we haven’t drawn any penalties…we’re capable of scoring goals in here, we just have to rediscover our touch."
A victory over the Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden—where the Senators received a three-goal game from checker Chris Kelly in order to pick up the two points—is Ottawa’s sole win this month.
It’s also the only time in the past five games they’ve managed more than a goal and have been shut out twice during that stretch. In the past 14 contests, they’ve managed three goals on only three occasions—all wins—and managed a fourth win by virtue of scoring twice and shutting out the opposition.
"It’s pretty bad right now," said Spezza. "We’re not happy with the offence we’re putting up. Our goalies have been playing real good, but we still have to do a better job of playing defence, too. We’re not doing either very well right now."
Among the team’s regular top two lines, Alfredsson, the team’s leading scorer with just eight in 29 games, hasn’t scored in 10 games. Spezza, with six goals on the season, has none in the past eight contests. Alex Kovalev hasn’t scored in five and Milan Michalek hasn’t scored in eight and has one goal in 19 games. Mike Fisher has been prolific by comparison—he has two in nine, although they both came in the same game.
It’s a far cry from the days when the Senators regularly ranked among the conference’s most potent offences. Losing players such as Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat and Dany Heatley over the years without replacing their scoring talents has taken its toll.
Youngster such as Nick Foligno, whose goal in a 4-1 loss at Montreal on Tuesday was just his second of the season, and Peter Regin, with one goal and having been made a healthy scratch recently, just aren’t producing like they were expected to.
The Senators aren’t drawing penalties—they’ve been rewarded with just one power-play opportunity in each of the past three games—and if they go into the third period in a close game, they’re in trouble since they’ve been outscored 36-19 over the final 20 minutes for the season.
"We have to start scoring," Clouston said. "It’s a pretty easy game to play against us if we only score one goal and you go into the third period where one goal is going to make the difference in the game. We have to have more of a threat and we have to get teams out of their comfort zone and you do that by scoring goals."
At practice Wednesday, right-winger Bobby Butler, called up two games ago from Binghamton of the AHL, was at right wing on the top line with Spezza and Michalek with Foligno, Fisher and Alfredsson forming the second unit.
Kovalev was among four players wearing the practice colours of the team’s fourth line and, while Clouston said it hasn’t come to it yet, he didn’t outright refute the notion that Kovalev could find himself out of the lineup before long. Kovalev has come under fire from fans and the media for not doing enough to earn his US$5-million-per-year contract.
"We need to, I don’t want to say shake things up, but we need guys to go out there and start creating offence and playing hard," Clouston said. "And if we get that from everybody, we win games and, if we don’t, if we have two or three guys (only), then we have trouble."