The Ottawa Senators are running out of excuses for yet another no-show performance against the Montreal Canadiens this weekend, and with each successive letdown, Bryan Murray is now getting closer to being forced into making some kind of move to help improve this struggling club.
If you want an excuse, you could chalk up the listless loss on Saturday to the fact that it was yet another back-to-back Friday-Saturday game, and that they were coming off an exuberant high after their captain Daniel Alfredsson recorded his 1000th point with a hat-trick against the Sabres on Friday. You could say they didn't have their legs. Not too many people are buying that one anymore after seeing this team come into the majority of their games looking like they weren't prepared in the first period. Heck, you could even try to pin some blame on the hometown fans who were once again made to look meek in their own barn as the Habs faithful took over the rink with ease and managed to boo the beleaguered home captain on national television for all the country to see. We can guarantee there has never been a case where the home team captain gets booed in his own rink whenever two separate teams come to town. Never. Yet here we are.
More and more, we are seeing that the Senators can only rely on one line, the Chris Kelly, Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu trio to provide energy every single game, while individual players scattered across the team, namely Alfredsson and Mike Fisher, have been very good for the most part, even if their various linemates aren't producing.
The entire defense core, thrown into chaos by the significant departures of Anton Volchenkov, Andy Sutton and the injury to Filip Kuba, is still struggling as a group with various individuals taking turns having good games before regressing the next. Fortunately, it looks as though Erik Karlsson is really starting to find his game after getting off to a horrendous start. With the call-up of David Hale, the pairing of Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips is going to get a chance to stay together and improve.
Yet it's getting late fairly early around here, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. With two very winnable games on the dock for this week: Phoenix and Florida, Murray may get a slight reprieve if the Senators are able to win two in a row for the first time this season.
But essentially, Murray has only 3 real options going forward to help this club.
One, he can stand pat and wait for the team to charge back to life. This is the easiest option considering the salary cap and the restraints it puts on Murray, but it is probably the least effective. What's clear is that the Senators just don't have a real goal-scorer. They have a few guys who may be able to get 25, but they don't have a sniper who can help them win games even when they are outplayed. Basically, if the Senators don't get a lot of shots on net, they don't score. Not doing anything to try and address this weakness will make sure the Senators are also-rans by December.
Two, Murray can make a big trade, or a couple of small ones. Not an easy task, obviously. But if you are looking for candidates to be moved, look no further than Nick Foligno. It's becoming clear that Foligno is not going to be a top six forward with any consistency and he's young enough that his name will more than likely come up in any trade talks. Foligno is a great character player, but what is he really providing for this team? Other Senators that could conceivably be moved if Murray did try and make a trade? Filip Kuba, Milan Michalek, Brian Lee, Chris Campoli and even Ruutu who is in the last year of his contract. It's hard to imagine Murray would trade a player with the upside of Peter Regin, despite his early struggles, because the Senators need more players with skill, youth and a cheap ticket, not less.
Three, Murray can make a coaching change. But that's not going to happen. Cory Clouston has done a great job since he came into a bad situation two seasons ago and the fact that Murray has went down that route twice already certainly precludes it. This is an option in name only, not in reality. Yet questions about the preparedness of this team are starting to creep up. Clouston needs to shore up that weakness before the whispers get louder.
So which option is it going to be? Stand pat, make a trade or make a coaching change?
Likely, even Bryan Murray doesn't know yet.