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Senators still searching for their game ahead of visit by Ducks

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Senators still searching for their game ahead of visit by Ducks

The Canadian Press
By:

OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators likely don't need the reminder, but with the Anaheim Ducks visiting Scotiabank Place on Friday, they're getting one anyway.

After a dismal 2007-08 campaign, the new NHL season hasn't gotten off to the best of starts, either. With the also-struggling Ducks returning to Ottawa for the first time since the teams met in the Stanley Cup final 16 months ago, it just further illustrates how far the Senators have fallen since.

"Both teams could probably care less about what happened two years ago and are more worried about the future," centre Jason Spezza said following Ottawa's practice Thursday.

Despite a roster makeover and a pair of coaching changes since the Senators lost the 2007 final to Anaheim, they've yet to shake the hangover. After wilting badly down the stretch last season, a 2-3-1 start to this year has failed to calm fears that they'll turn things around any time soon.

On Thursday, the Senators announced a $1.3-million donation in support of a pair of youth substance-abuse treatment centres as well as school-based education and prevention programs, but that was about the most upbeat thing to emerge from their camp.

Since taking three out of four points from the Pittsburgh Penguins on a season-opening trip to Stockholm, Ottawa returned to play five straight games at home and has managed just one victory so far over that span heading into Friday's finale of the homestand.

New coach Craig Hartsburg has already tried juggling his lines and sitting out regulars, without much success.

"We've made a lot of changes structurally and the way we play," Spezza said. "It's a lot of small things (that are wrong)."

As a result, confidence appears to be in short supply around Scotiabank Place, so a win over the Ducks, who started just 2-5-0 and sat 15th in the Western Conference standings heading into Thursday's games, would be welcome.

"We're sort of finding our identity here," said Senators goaltender Alex Auld, who will get the start against Anaheim. "It's not going to happen overnight. It's a process."

Auld will make just his second start of the season. That's because Martin Gerber, who once again is finding himself at the centre of an emerging goaltending controversy in Ottawa.

The Swiss goaltender has gone just 1-3-1 so far and his 3.39 goals-against average and .891 save percentage have opened him up for criticism.

Now Hartsburg won't say for certain that Gerber will get the start on Saturday against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. He is leaving the door open for Auld to start a run of games if he performs will against Anaheim.

Behind some equally shaky defensive play from his teammates, Gerber has often looked porous, most recently during Wednesday night's 3-1 loss to Florida in which he allowed the Panthers' second and third shots of the game to slip through him in a 48-period span of the opening period.

It's the type of performance that hasn't helped the Senators escape their fragile state.

"No question, I'm not going to sit here and deny that," Hartsburg said. "It's very important that we get the big saves we need."

It doesn't help matters that Ottawa's once-high-powered offence is sputtering.

It's produced just 17 goals through six games nine of them through Spezza (three goals), Dany Heatley (four goals) and Daniel Alfredsson (two goals).

Secondary scoring - a knock against the team going into the season - has yet to emerge. After signing new deals in the off-season, Chris Kelly and Antoine Vermette have one goal between them and second-line centre Mike Fisher has no points.

"It's a lot easier to play in this league with a lead, it forces the other team to take chances, and it seems we're behind every night," Spezza said.

Following Friday's game, the Senators depart for a four-game road trip, beginning with Saturday's game against the Leafs.

Hartsburg also coached in Anaheim, but Friday's game won't be any sort of reunion. He's got too much to worry about with his own team to spend much time on the Ducks these days.

"I'm not sure what their situation is, but I know what we're going through," he said. "It's not where we want to be, but it's part of the process. You've got to go through some bumps in the road."

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Senators still searching for their game ahead of visit by Ducks